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The USA is a Monster - Sunset at the End of the Industrial Age

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Artist: The USA is a Monster

Album: Sunset at the End of the Industrial Age

Label: Load

Review date: Oct. 9, 2006

New York's enviro-prog duo return with their third album for Load Records. Following their last album's lengthy concept overload, this time around the guitar-drum duo generally go for it with shorter, to-the-point songs and bring it all in under the 46-minute mark. Where last time the sprawl allowed them to relax a bit more and let it loose, things are now wound tighter, with varied results.

Sunset is a peculiar album, a political screed cloaked in neo-prog garb so confining that it too often suppresses the freedom expressed in the band's message. The lyrics are impassioned and appropriate for these times, if a bit too much like having a well-intentioned hippie on Haight Street yelling at you. But it's on only a few songs that the music develops the same level of passion, despite the volume and apparent intensity. It's as if the band is too busy assembling intricate structures, and everything winds up so strictly locked in that there's no freedom left.

Songs like "Voices to be Heard" feel so artificially constructed that they're nearly sapped of meaning. Yes, the drums and guitar follow each other perfectly, a synchronized rat-a-tat over and over, but they don't seem to get anywhere. This sort of music requires a careful walk between structure and passion, technicality and communication, and at times Sunset finds the duo stepping across the line.

The album starts well. "The Greatest Mystery" flows better than most of the songs here, and the words and music meld fairly well. The title track is an epic that consumes over a quarter of the album's length, moving through numerous peaks and valleys. The Monster take us from gentle, pastoral folkish moments to a synth-and-drum-driven rhythmic chug, like playing Fairport Convention one moment and Magma's heaviest the next. Thankfully, although some of the changes feel pasted-together, the song allows the music to match the moods of the lyrics, from quiet to excited, and the result is more well-rounded and complete than some of the album's later songs.

The use of drums with effected guitar rhythms reminds me strongly of the Tokyo-based band Kirihito, who have used a similar modus operandi for years, albeit in a mostly instrumental context. The music also carries reminders of Ruins, and of course at times of labelmates Lightning Bolt. The playing is accomplished, but on Sunset, the USA is a Monster have confined themselves within a cage of their own making.

By Mason Jones

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