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Monotract - Xprmntl Lvrs

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Artist: Monotract

Album: Xprmntl Lvrs

Label: Ecstatic Peace!

Review date: Aug. 29, 2006

Monotract’s first performance in New York City, which they now call home, came in 2000 at the Knitting Factory as part of Thurston Moore’s New Years Noise 2000. The night’s bill wasn’t full of slouches (Moore and Susie Ibarra, Tower Recordings, and the Wharton Tiers Ensemble also performed), but Monotract came away as the night’s strangest bird. This performance came at the end of its third tour, but the band was still without a full-length effort. Blaggout, released in 2000 on Animal World Recordings, was a jarring debut, the broken glass that came as part of the packaging an apt metaphor for the music within. Pagu, issued by Public Eyesore in 2002, largely forsook the trio’s fragmented rock side for a full-on explosion of damaged electronics and warped, crude stabs of mangled dance music. At No Fun Fest 2005, however, Monotract took the stage with drums, guitar, and bass, and proceeded to play some of their most straightforward material to date. That set served as a preview for Xprmntl Lvrs, Monotract's best work yet.

To the unfamiliar listener, it’s not hard to mistake Monotract for a rock band whose muse put a finger in an electrical socket. “There are Hard Days I Can’t Forget” opens with an off-kilter rhythm of sizzled electronics, augmented quickly by bass and drums before maintaining a steady (if pockmarked) groove under the distorted vocals of Nancy Garcia. The track is indicative of the nature of Monotract’s rock-based music, in that the tracks, like “Paper Bag,” are simple combinations of rhythm and melody. But Monotract aren’t the sort of group to let things play out too simply, and the track’s more streamlined core exists under a dark cloud of noise, with Garcia’s multi-tracked vocals a ragged chorus of barbed-wire incantation. “Projectus” is likely the most easily digested track Garica, Carlos Giffoni, and Roger Rimada have ever laid down, minus the implosion that occurs midway through the song.

Monotract wouldn’t be Monotract, however, without shifting gears, often mid-flight, and Xprmntl Lvrs is a continuation of the band’s penchant for multiplicity. “Muerta and Detruccion” departs rather markedly from any prior rock leanings, with gloopy electronics, languid guitars and monotone, spoken lyrics over a repetitive beat. The track deteriorates into a flurry of malfunctioning circuits, and never quite recovers. And though “Game 7” and its plodding beats makes fleeting concessions toward familiar song structure, the bulk of the remainder of the album veers far from the beaten path. Monotract never disavows the power of steady rhythms, but it's prone to torture, adorning them with wild electronic crossfire and nonlinear guitar. Repetitive sound collage, long a trademark weapon, rules “Halloweenie,” a track that wouldn’t be out of place on one of the trio’s earlier releases. “Bushwick Blues,” at almost eight minutes, closes the album, a convenient microcosm of Xprmntl Lvrs as a whole, flirting with accessibility before leaving for more abstract territory, and, of course, changing trajectories liberally as it evolves.

One reason Xprmntl Lvrs stands at the apex of Monotract’s catalog is its ability to please (and perhaps annoy) both those who enjoy the band’s forays into rock and those who yearn for more disturbed pastures. The album isn't seamless by any means, but purposefully so, and Monotract continue to prove themselves to be shape-shifters extraordinaire.

By Adam Strohm

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