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Monotrona - Hawkeye and Firebird

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Artist: Monotrona

Album: Hawkeye and Firebird

Label: Menlo Park

Review date: Nov. 7, 2002

Mirror Mirror

"Nothing but coke and mirrors," they indict Electroclash, they they who aren't those others as so declared by they themselves, those others those with tape on tits, with fauxhawks and mullets and further creative assymetries, with sex on mind in gutter; and while we're drawing dangerously close, already, to impugning bands I like or don't hate or at any rate have heard, in declension say Liars and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Tall Boys, in ascension yell Brooklyn Rock Revival! this may serve to clarify how thin is the line, razor-cut, nosespoonfed, between pose as glistening surface and pose as hollow core – a shell as thin as pose itself.

Paper-thin, but then you need paper for paper-mache: Masks frown-grin into tragicomedy. Halls of mirrors inflate, reflect, fractalize. Surface becomes shape becomes substance. The third dimension exists, after all, because the second realized lateral motion. The cube has six sides; Monotrona has six faces, performances, "superbeings” – sides enough to square a solid, poses enough to people a planet?

A paper-mache planet, she's got, literally, live at least. I've avoided Electroclash, mostly, for rock ’n’ roll – since friends tell me to and Vice tells me not to; since I prefer artists voxing with rhythm sections to models voguing on rhythm boxes – but shit ’n’ shows happen, and one autumnal evening in a land not so long-ago-faraway Burglemir, the white-headdressed white-robed frost-giant wise-man, ravaged a Lilliputian white city, its matchbox white cars, its irradiating black lights, enraged at "earth and its things," tantrumming pieces off tables, taekwondoing his territorial circle, singing via head-mic the while. He stalked off; the ruins remained, physical and aural, CD sputtering herk-jerk crags, Williamsburg more decrepit than ever.

Hawkeye and Firebird isn't Burglemir – it's Hawkeye and Firebird, heroine and her cardboard robot slave – but the world is of a piece. Six crimefighting superbeings (plus Firebird), six sets of costumed choreography sing-synched to six CDs mini-series’d every four months. Ambition tending to hubris, at the least in extracting 60 or 100 bucks for two hours of music absent fleshly superbeing. Unfinished hubris: Menlo Park could have aimed yet higher, sprung for a 6xDVD or video on each CD, seen if the sun would singe its fiscal wings – or grant it interstellar futurevision and the power to mint money. The music, for now, stands alone, vigilante against the forces and force of performance art.

It puts up a fight, though its two propulsions, motorik and narrative, cancel. Like much neo-electro, Hawkeye and Firebird's electronics are retrospecting anachronisms, its themes rips from Commodore 64 tunes, its sounds chintzy and thin: undetailed collisions of pixelated power-ups and serrated smart bombs, Mario meets the Space Invaders in the arcade that never was (and Monotrona the technogeek flaneur?). Meanwhile, Hawkeye, solo and in duet with Mac-voiced Firebird, tells her tale, thudding syllables and Fudding r's (“People around the wowl-l-ld are afwaid/No need to wowwy, people, we will fight and save the day!”) when she isn't singing in Korean, learned specifically for the character; song, sense, and story secondary to conceptual exposition.

In its combination of pop-star gloss, karaoke anemia, and, when in perky Korean, puzzling otherness I’m reminded of the Asian pop – Japanese and Chinese mostly, perhaps Korean – that drifted from my high school hallways, from storefronts in immigrant corners of Manhattan and Queens, from staticky UHF gameshows. Not the J-pop that’s made its American impression by being half-American, its saccharine cloy self-aware and outsized, the pomo joins of its prefab neon-highlighted and caulked with mangled English. Rather, the A-pop that throws forward its sugar without stuttery synthetics, “real” voice belting or chirping over band canned and stiff – authentic-fake not fake-fake, for “real” Asians only. J- and A-, in each’s definitive, damning tilt toward one or the other fake-pole, make one admire the smooth synthesis USA-pop producers and their Britneys achieve: unified fakery, seemingly natural if huger-than-life, when what we really have are robots singing about Platonism, True Contemplative Love Always. They’ve got pose down pat, the best money can buy. Realdeal A-pop is too cheap to toe the line.

Monotrona too poses on the cheap; as does Electroclash, which pimps pneumatics lip-syncing a vocodered “Fuck And Run.” But Monotrona has more in common with A- than J-’s and E’s fake-fake; she believes, it seems, in bringing her concept off in a manner authentic at least to itself, to its internal logic. Hawkeye, daughter of a Korean pop star, is written perhaps to emulate Korean pop idiom. Thus the all-around flimsiness: she’s building a character of smoke and mirrors out of same.

But this is only supposition, supposed from an incomplete document, supplemented with what I’ve seen, heard, inferred elsewhere. Reports from Electroclash 2001, the year and event electro broke, had Monotrona befuddling the beautiful. The narcissistic expanse of the full-length, its illusory depth – at that they can gaze and in it see themselves. But the broken glass, its shards – these threaten to draw blood, these threatened, and so they instead cheered A.R.E. Weapons and W.I.T. and T & A. Hawkeye and Firebird, by itself, leaves the threat’s emptiness a plausibility. To know the truth and lie of it, I suspect, we need to see her and hers, Monotrona and Hawkeye and Firebird, in the made-up flesh.

By Sam Frank

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