Thursday, January 12, 2012

#17 The Monks-Black Monk Time


Artist: Monks
Album: Black Monk Time
Label: Polydor
Year: 1966

note: going through the rest of the list, I apparently put this album at number 17 and 11. I am sure I meant it to be 11, because as I was writing this, I thought it was a bit low. But now to figure out what album isn't here that should be. What album is missing? Oh no...
Neglect! Thy name is my blog. (I wrote this first sentence on 11/'s now 1/12/12)
If Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers has a sort-of accidental greatness...a piece so desolate and harrowing, that it's total abandonment helps to cement the music...then Black Monk Time, is its polar opposite: an album which reflects a definitive purpose. Every moment committed to tape has a reason and a meaning. Those who've seen the documentary Transatlantic Feedback or have read the book on the band know this. While Monks may appear on a Nuggets box set, and they may have even appeared at a few garage rock revival festivals a few years ago, the band is eons away from their peers in both sonic quality and band philosophy. There never was a band like Monks and there really hasn't been one since.
Not one single component of the band's sound truly stands out above the rest. For those unfamiliar with the band, they began as a bunch of GI friends stationed in Germany during the early-1960s. After their military discharge, they stayed in Germany and played out as a band called The Torquays. At the time, they fit in pretty well with other bands playing American-style garage rock in the German clubs.
After hooking up with a management group with an artistic style, the group transformed, and long story short-became Monks. The group not only performed songs under the moniker, but dressed like Monks all the time (including the shaved heads!)
Yet the most important impact of this move wasn't really directly linked to being "monks" per se, but more of a singular purpose and focus. That's the greatness of Black Monk Time: purposefulness. Cutting through everything unnecessary so all that's left is the core of the music.
The documentary on the band and surely the book will give more detail, but it's clear that the album strips every good idea down to its essence and leaves nothing else. Unlike, say, Wire's Pink Flag where any idea is really only given a brief lifespan before moving on, Monks compose full songs that only really have one idea. Songs like "I Hate You" and "Oh, How To Do" are just one measure repeated over and over, with slight adjustments in terms of dynamics and start/stops...but the chorus and verse all have the same music. The tribalism of the band is also essential, as floor-stompers like "Complication" and "Shut Up" shun the use of cymbals and focus almost exclusively on toms (which produce a lower-register). The songs are closer to being sonic-assaults than pop ditties, which surely accounted for their unpopularity at the time. But now that we've had Krautrock, Noise, Industrial, and all sorts of non-traditional rock-influenced music, we can see what tremendously important album Black Monk Time really is.
I once read on the website Perfect Sound Forever that The Stooges were avant-garde because nobody had ever been so minimalist. Monks, however, were doing their thing when Iggy Pop was in high school (well if he was 21 in 1968...then in 1965 he'd be 18!). The band stopped being Monks and moved on with their life, totally unaware of the cult that built around them until the 2000s. But there is no doubt now of Black Monk Time's greatness, and that its greatness is due in large part to how strongly it flew in the face of convention in pop-rock at the time.

I thought when I got near the end of this list, it would be easy to write about my favorite albums. But putting it into smart words is just so hard. Thanks for reading!

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