Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Red Monroe- s/t EP

If mainstream rock fans in Dallas had better taste, Red Monroe would already be one of the most popular bands in the metroplex. Of course, this isn't to say that they're the best band in the area, or even one of the ten best, but thats kind of missing the point. There are a handful of other things going on in Dallas and Denton right now that are more interesting, unique, and exciting than Red Monroe, and I probably don't have to tell most of you about them. But as everyone already knows, popularity often has little to do with artistic merit, and in Dallas, the presence of the first trait usually all but guarantees the absence of the second, meaning that good art often goes unnoticed, nice guys usually finish last, and shitty bands are given the royal treatment by the local music press time and time again. This is why Red Monroe's ratio of talent to commercial appeal is pleasantly surprising, and its why you should be glad that they are probably about to become bigger than a lot of the popular Dallas rock bands that have helped turn this town into a snore fest.

It was recently announced that the band's self titled debut EP has been placed on the Grammy Award nomination list for best "Alternative Album," and one quick listen to its eight songs provides a pretty clear explanation as to how this happened. Simply put, if there is a musical formula for "indie" success these days, Red Monroe probably comes as close as anyone in the metroplex to following it perfectly, producing a record that will satisfy a portion of the music geeks while simultaneously thrilling enough Greenville bar hoppers to earn the band some attention from people that usually don't give a shit.

if "indie" is indeed an actual musical genre as opposed to an abstract, indefinable marketing concept used purely to sell us fake "West Virginia is for Lovers" t-shirts, Red Monroe sums up the sound well enough. If you take most of the fashionable influence lists that have popped up this millennium (post-punk, space rock, psychedelic, Radiohead, Brit pop, bits of Americana and blues, 60's garage, glam, Talking Heads, The Strokes, The Walkmen etc.) and mix them up until they're all audibly present but jumbled to the point of being almost indistinguishable, you would probably get a sound that could fairly be described as contemporary "indie" rock, and you would also be pretty close to what Red Monroe sounds like. I know, I know, this description probably isn't thrilling to many of you, and admittedly, I'm usually not too excited to hear a band that sounds like bits and pieces of just about every "next big thing" that has come and gone over the past five years. But somehow, Red Monroe pulls it off more often than not, and sometimes, the results are quite impressive.

The Ep opens with the short, bouncing thump of "Shotgun Heart," and almost immediately transitions into the Wolf Paradesque organ-lead stomp of "Fingertips," a song that serves as the Ep's most accessible track while providing a proper showcase for Eric Steele's lead vocals, which are clearly the band's strongest selling point. Steele's influences probably won't be much of a mystery to many, as echoes of Ziggy era Bowie, David Byrne, and contemporaries such as Alec Ounsworth, Hamilton Leithauser and Spencer Krug make themselves apparent from the get go. However, the singer's excited, slightly shrieking delivery is urgent, powerful and quite effective throughout the album, constantly demanding the listener's attention and revealing an emotional depth that you'll be hard pressed to find in most local albums. The life of the band's music seems to be packed into his confidently damaged vocals, and his emotions on sleeve presentation almost always seem to bring the band to a slightly higher level, setting them apart almost immediately from other locals that might share similar influences.

Musically, the band seems to be willing to explore a bit, but never ventures far enough to truly break any new ground. Fortunately, this restraint isn't often a problem. "A Return to the Old Way of Thinking," the EP's best track, starts with a shimmering march reminiscent of PIL's "Rise" before following an efficiently funky bassline into a soul infected breakdown shift that emphasizes the band's strong command of rhythm and reveals their willingness to play around with structure a bit. The band also tries its hand with Nigel Godrich atmospherics on the slow building "Carolina Cigarette," where choppy post-punk pop guitar gives way to swirling synths and guitar noise in a convincing if slightly rushed build up. Elsewhere, acoustic psychedelics make a welcome appearance on "Blue Mountain Air," and the Radiohead infected shoegaze guitar of closer "Broken Wall Carnival" reveals bits and pieces of all the things Red Monroe does well, playing off a bouncing bass line and a well placed organ wall that lends the song an effective texture.

As you might expect, the band at times tends to get bogged down in predictable guitar playing and chord changes, and there are a few points where lyrics become a bit trite and tired, but nothing truly offensive or completely boring ever really emerges, even if there are a couple of slow patches to be found. For the most part, the playing is tight, well crafted and powerful enough to hold attention throughout, with sufficiently memorable stretches that ensure accessibility. Again, the slight been there done that feel that you'll find on Red Monroe probably holds this album back a bit, but its clear that the band has the good taste and requisite talent to take their music in different, more interesting directions if they choose. At its core, Red Monroe's EP is populist in nature, and I wouldn't be surprised to see these guys shift to headliner status in the next few months. But for once, an accessible Dallas rock record is actually quite enjoyable, and if a few more bands like Red Monroe began to take hold in the Dallas mainstream, checking the Observer's local concert listings could become significantly less embarrassing for everyone.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Cool review. Well written and I agree with most of it, having just bought this ep and listened to it for the first time last night. I wouldn't mind at all if these guys do well out of Dallas, and I think they probably will. Fucking good live show too - better than the ep.

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

placed on the Grammy Award nomination list for best "Alternative Album"

.... I think its just the 48 bands on the Ballot.. not a nomination. John Dufhilo is on the ballot too

1:21 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

yeah, you're right. Maybe I should clarify that a bit better in the review.

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

god, dallas music would jump at anything, would'nt it???
not very realistic is it?!?!
oh well.. thanks again for the truth.
i wanna know where the gold's at.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

red monroe?
purple polk?????????

1:45 PM  
Blogger Zine-O-Phonic said...

At least it's not "Black" Monroe.

Good review SR

Saw them at the cavern a while back, and thought they were alright. Haven't gotten the E.P. yet, but I'll check it out.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you see them at the Cavern with Single Frame? Except for the crappy sound at the Cavern Single frame killed it that night. Why aren't they on the blogger radar?

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cuz it's just a single frame.. stupid!

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw Black Tie Dynasty mentioned on stereogum once for god's sake.. that's considered "the blogger radar" right? ...wouldn't put too much weight on who is on that "radar". Shit, I never see the strange boys anywhere and they are badass.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I meant semi local blogger radar as in this place and the Austinist, etc. But your right just because they aren't on the "radar" don't mean shit. They are a really good solid band though, not a new sound per se but definitely different and everytime they come to town it is always worth checking out.

2:56 PM  
Anonymous fannie said...

Cool review---though I'm pretty sure they are already headliner status, as I've seen RM headline several times... but I get your point. You should really see them live, though, before committing 100% to the whole "been there done that" opinion. I actually like them live better than the album, especially with the work since the album, but that's probably a compliment, as anyone can studio-perfect their album, while being quite devoid of any real performable talent---(See: anything Cher has ever done/ Britney Spears/ either Simpson sister---I dare not mention any "indie" bands, since it seems to me that the more piercing they are live, the more they are loved for their "raw" talent...ahem, Clap Your Hands. And Strange Boys?? Goooooo! My ears bleed at the thought! Anyway, good thoughts, SR---I'd love to see a write up comparing RM live to the album, since I'm usually right with you on opinions. Just a thought....

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fannie, the strangeboys are greatness. cyhsy do kinda suck live. I have never seen red monroe live, but I dig the ep lots.

3:42 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

I have seen them live a couple times, and I thought both were pretty good. Didn't blow me away, but quite solid.

Of course, I haven't seen them in over six months, so maybe its a bit different now.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I want my info in controlled little information bites. Cliff mother fucking notes.

You think I want to read for 5 fucking minutes or so?

This is toilet paper. It works. I use it.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

please don't cliff your notes JR

if you want bite-sized tripe go to fineline

5:43 PM  
Anonymous mc said...

Single Frame - definitely one of the best things going out of Austin right now. I'd say Cue is up there with them. Probably Gorch Fock too, on the dirty side of things.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous mc said...

And the much-reviled (here, anyways) Black Angels as well ... those 4 = some to look out for if they come up I-35.

8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of the Brothers and Sisters as well, they are in the vein of Peter and the Wol f and the Theater Fire. Very solid stuff.

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

leave = out of it, please. now, back to business...
i wanna know where the gold's at.
i bet he's a crackhead... like savanteous.

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Tiger Named Lovesick's the best thing to come out of Austin in years. Them and Black Cock. And SteerS.

4:57 PM  

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