Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Album Review: Red Monroe: Policia Policia!

(3 out of 5)
From the piercing, ear-destroying feedback found on Jesus and Mary Chain's early material to the reckless improvised interplay between John Cale and Sterling Morrisson on Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray," it seems that some of the most exciting stretches of the greatest rock albums emerge from unplanned moments of chaos that provide a certain amount of grit and discomfort. This is a mostly intangible quality that often has less to do with the songs themselves and more to do with how those songs are presented to the listener-- in these instances, it's not how the song is written, but how it is being played and how it is captured on record that makes the moment, turning an otherwise good album into a great one. Don't get me wrong, the songs are obviously important too, and great rock albums are often great despite unbecoming recordings. But let me ask you this-- would Guided By Voices' Alien Lanes be as glorious as it is if it had been recorded in a slick studio rather than on a crappy four track? I don't think so. In fact, it would probably sound like GBV's vastly inferior later material. Would Dinosaur Jr.'s SST albums rock the way they do if the feedback from J Mascis' guitar didn't hurt your ears every once in a while? Doubt it. And would Black Flag be as much fun if they never fucked up on record? No way. I mention these examples not so that I can hold Red Monroe to the standard of the aforementioned bands, but only to point out that when it comes to rock n roll records, "consummate professionalism," to borrow a phrase from Patrick Bateman, isn't usually necessary, and sometimes, records suffer from studio perfection and flawless execution when it prevents such unhinged moments from occurring.

As we've noted before, Red Monroe possesses many of the qualities of a potentially great rock band, and everything about their debut full length, Policia Policia!, indicates that they've become significantly more confident and ambitious since the release of their self titled EP last year. From the tight musicianship and sophisticated songwriting to the bold, colorful marketing campaign and politically informed conceptual narrative concerning life in Dallas, the album stands out and separates Red Monroe from the run of the mill Dallas "indie" acts that often seem content to deliver the same mediocre garbage time and time again. This, of course, is a good thing-- Red Monroe is one of the few bands in Dallas proper that is often able to strike a healthy balance between artistic viability and commercial accessibility, and Policia Policia has the potential to convince many new listeners of this fact with catchy songs, memorable lyrics, and smart influences on full display throughout its running time. But despite everything the band does better than most of their Dallas based contemporaries, a few issues pop up throughout Policia Policia that hold Red Monroe back, resulting in a significantly softer punch than the group seems capable of packing.

A quick listen to the album's nine tracks reveals a document that rocks significantly harder than it's predecessor, as the band veers away from its previous infatuations with nu post-punk and Radiohead and moves toward bold blues riffs and sassy garage/glam energy that strongly recalls Television's Marqee Moon, the Make Up, early White Stripes, and Julian Cope's oft overlooked group The Teardrop Explodes. In fact, the Television influence is all over the place, and can be heard particularly clearly in the compelling vocals of lead singer Eric Steele, who incorporates Tom Verlaine's nervous, high pitched shout into virtually every track on the album. This promising set of influences serves as an appealing (if not wholly original) template for the band, and in many places throughout the album, they utilize it to produce some very solid results.

The album's first two tracks, which also happen to be two of its shortest, provide an exhilarating beginning. "City Boy Motel" gets right down to business with a choppy, rhythm heavy lead guitar riff that builds up into an explosive politically charged chorus ("All them soldiers/erase the fourth of the July from their mind"), slapping the listener in the face with boldness and clarity before the song instantaneously transitions into the loud and catchy "The Sundown Shade,"easily the best track on the album. These two tracks are examples of Red Monroe at their finest- provocative, thoughtful songwriting that seems to rush past you in a blur of big riffs, unexpected changes and a measurable level of raw tension assuring you that they mean it. Elsewhere, the album's title track works well as its epic centerpiece, a five and a half minute long set of hyper transitions from Zeppelinesque blues riffs to gypsy polka to a section of chanting influenced by traditional Indian music that ends with an explosive multi-part vocal that showcases Red Monroe's potential for experimentation better than any other track they've released thus far. These and most of the other tracks on the album are quite fun, and warrant praise for their structure, style and execution.

In fact, it's quite easy to point out all of Policia Policia's strengths because there are so many of them, but what is more difficult is explaining why the album doesn't work quite as well as it should, although I think I have a vague idea. As things progress, it becomes obvious that the album could use a dose of the grit found on other recent garage influenced rock albums such as King Khan and the Shirnes What is?, Black Lips' Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo (which I realize is a "live" record, although the point remains unchanged), and even White Drugs' Harlem. It's not that the songs on those records are necessarily THAT much better than anything found on Policia Policia, but that they seem to pack so much energy that they sound as though they could fall apart at any moment, which is something you cannot say about the disciplined, evenly mixed tracks on this album. Guitar distortion that overpowers roughly recorded vocals. Loud, slightly out of tune keyboard parts. Incoherent noisy freakouts. The occasional mistake. These are the kind of things that make the aforementioned records what the are, and considering what Red Monroe is trying to do on Policia Policia, it seems that the record would benefit from this kind of grit too. The listener can sit and imagine what "Trees and Poor Houses" might sound like with uncomfortably loud guitars and distortion on the vocals, or maybe wonder how "Fever Kids" might work if the horns weren't quite so tuneful and smooth, or if they were allowed to overpower the rest of the mix all together.

This isn't to say that lo-fi and sloppy is always the way to go, or that Red Monroe has to record in a shoe box in order to gain some kind of "cred" that most people really don't care about anyway. It's just that Policia Policia sounds like a caged animal, waiting to go crazy but held back by the limitations of a flawlessly smooth recording and mix that often fails to expose the power behind some of these songs while failing to document the band outside of a perfectly executed comfort zone. The potential is audible, and many songs on the record work despite these limitations, but the need for a few unhinged moments is clear, and it is apparent that a dash of feedback, a dose of slop and a touch of gritty noise might have turned this strong swing into a knockout punch.

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63 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good review.

I don't think this is their debut full length though.

7:18 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

i thought the other one was officially released as an EP, but I might be wrong.

7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8 tracks - maybe an ep - always thought of it as a full length, but that's neither here nor there.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8 tracks - maybe an ep - always thought of it as a full length, but that's neither here nor there.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

their sound isn't half bad, but far from being that good. i've seen them a few times, and they just seem like another run of the mill, below average, Britpop-cliche "indie band." throw in the fact that those dudes are probably thirty-somethings and draw the lame SMU/20-something yuppie crowd as a fan base, it's difficult to really get into them or take them that seriously!

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do reviews really have to be that long? lets keep it short and sweet like people magazine

7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

its fucking three paragraphs

9:20 PM  
Anonymous JW said...

When I think of Red Monroe I think of a group trying so hard to win a high school battle of the bands contest. They end up winning because they are a safe bet for the masses, but they lack the talent or the creativity of some other group that gets shortchanged for being too edgy.

J

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this probably isn't the case, but I got hung up on the line, "A quick listen to the album's nine tracks..."

I hope (assume?) you gave it more than that?

I don't know the first thing about Red Monroe, but it made me read the rest of the review with a grain if salt.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

Red Monroe doesn’t care about popular opinion, and this is proven through every second, of every track, as each note is a new innovation that fearlessly ventures into unexpected soundscapes.

In response to the production quality critique… I think that these guys want every note on the album to be heard in crisp clarity, and don’t care to sound like a garage band during cd spins where their carefully crafted art can be best appreciated. Yet they also seem to realize that there are listeners who want to hear a dirtier sound out of them, and that’s why they always make sure to slap the shit out of you in concert.

At the end of the day, between the varying personalities of their albums and concerts, Red Monroe will find a way to, in the words of Mike Tyson… “fuck you till you love them.” (<< Finally! An excuse to use that quote ; )

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"each note is a new innovation that fearlessly ventures into unexpected soundscapes."

sounds kinda faggy to me.

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"each note is a new innovation that fearlessly ventures into unexpected soundscapes. "

QUOTE OF THE GAY

11:25 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

It took me an hour and 45 minutes to craft that sentence. I suggest you love it.

11:35 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

of course I listened to it more than once... the point was that you could hear the difference in their songs right off the bat. What do you think this is, Jonanna Widner's blog?

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its actually 6 paragraphs, which means I have to scroll down like 3 times to read the whole thing. I want to read either; 'these guys rock hell yeah!' or, 'these guys suck, fuck them!' If I want to know what it sounds like I'll listen to it myself.

11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rgrs tomorrow night

12:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

man i miss daniel francis doyle who r yr customers gets me weht

1:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

where's the red monroe review????? ah, crap. I can't ask this anymore. (gun shot to the head).

2:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wanz..

7:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SR - this is a solid review. I agree with you that this record could have been MUCH more interesting with a more low-fi approach. Still, its cool that you point out that the songwriting and musicianship is strong. I actually really like this record and I've been waiting to read some kind of review. This about sums it up

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Britpop-cliche "indie band." huh? Don't hear britpop, cliche in the stuff I've heard.. But, yes, I think they are in their 30's or 40's or something...

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually the singer is 14, the drummer is 67, and the rest of the guys are in their mid 50's, going through a mid life crisis.

What?

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ummm, these guys are in their twenties. I went to high school with one of them. 30's-40's? really? Have you seen them? And Britpop-cliche "indie band?" Wow, that was a comparisson made, like 4 years ago... when is the last time you saw them? I actually hadn't seen them for about a year and I didn't even know it was the same band the last time I went... again, when is the last time you saw them? That's like me dismising Modest Mouse because I heard a recording of his first junior high band (which I hhave, don't listen, it'll make you sad)... Artists change.

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Vin said...

I agree with what I read between the lines: I do not believe this album captures their live sound. Too puny. Don't know if that's the mastering/ recording/ an artistic(mis)choice or what. It serves instead as a fond reminder of the kick-ass show you saw last night, and to tide you over till the next show. Think of it like that. But definitely turn it up really loud when you listen to it. And try to boost the bass. Much improved. (Or maybe my speakers just suck)

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who cares how old these guys r ?!?!?!?!?! And why would that make it "difficult to really get into them or take them that seriously?" Dude, you're a little too Dallas scene-struck. Are bands only to be taken seriously if they're young and hip and their crowd wears black glasses and old prom dresses? DO THEY ROCK, or not?! I vote yes.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any chance we can get the guys from SHQ to do an interview with Wanz about the new Red Monroe album?

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vin - I agree. The live show is more raw, louder, just.. better in general. The album is fun though and does remind me of some bands I like (television, pere ubu). As far as how old they are.. what?? are we really having this conversation?? I do know for a fact that at least two of the members have Aids though

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gave Red Monroe AIDS. I'm so famous!

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Holy Holly said...

Am I wrong, or haven't there in fact been TWO albums before this? I have two before this....The first one, I can kinda hear the Radiohead on. The others, not so much. Thought: what do we think of the new Radiohead?

12:13 PM  
Blogger Logster said...

I like this!! Very cool

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this album and their self titled EP as well.

Can hear the television comparison too.

1:55 PM  
Anonymous meownonymous said...

If this were Jonannnannanna Widnenders blog there would be weird words highlighted just for no good reason whatsoever!

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great record....however, it doesn't fully capture their live show....but, still rocks...

5:40 PM  
Anonymous suomynona said...

I can't believe no one even mentioned Sunday Papers! Go back and listen to that record again. They are an indie band that actually has a RHYTHM section!

10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

daniel frances doyle? weird. i was just thinking about his show that got shot down at fra house at 1:00 am and resumed at SHQ at around 1:45. SHQ and him fucking rock

11:26 PM  
Anonymous OnlinePharmacy said...

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3:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

man im sad

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

first off, I'm not a big fan of Red Monroe, live or recorded...but reading a review like this that goes to great length picking apart production techniques...it just kind of seems like you looked really hard for flaws until you found one...I'm just curious if you are being overly critical because you raise local bands to a higher standard or what...maybe you don't feel like you are being overly critical...but, it came off that way to me.

end of ramble.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are u critiquing what they DIDN'T do or wished they had done instead of what they DID accomplish? This is a recent trend in music blogging. Me no likey.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:34 and 12:02, I think the fact that SR "picked apart" the production and technical aspects (call it... critiquing what they 'didnt do') just goes to show that this is a very intelligent music critic - someone who goes beyond the normal "this cd is good.. it is indie bla bla bla" critiques we read all the time. I AM a fan of Red Monroe - both live and on record. i think they are developing as a group and are one of the more exciting bands in Dallas right now. However, SR got right to it on this review: the production on this album is a bit too pristine. These are garage rockers at their core and they've been "brushed up" here to be a "professional act".

12:56 PM  
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1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and you dont trust the band to choose the "brushed up and pristine" format as the best way to present the songs they wrote?

You might as well come out and say "these songs good but these guys aren't cool enough to pick the right package that makes me love it."

I haven't heard the record but I find it really hard to believe that making the production a little dirtier is going to make a good record a "knock out punch"

Back to the article, I would argue that bands that rely on a specific type of production to make memorable moments usually don't have great songs to begin with. Great songs are great songs regaurdless of production values. There are countless examples of this.

I personally feel a little cheated whenever a good "moment" occurs solely because of wise production choices. Just an opinion.

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't this really just the classic struggle between a Producer and the artist? I don't know enough about this record to know who produced or engineered, but, perhaps that has something to do with it.

1:58 PM  
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This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At least they didn't hop the bandwagon and have damn Stuart Sikes poo poo all over their record.

3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the producer was somebody named Chris Bell. I don't know who that is unless they brought that dude from Big Star back from the dead. I personally like Stuart Sikes' work much more than this. It's got a lot more personality.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sikes is the guy that did the DARYL record, right?

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stinky Sikes.

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

which daryl record?

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i will say, these guys seem to be doing something different then most in this area...which says a lot. the comments about sikes are funny...talk about a polishing producer?!?!?

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris Bell's resume looks like this...

According to the link below, Chris has worked with Erykah Badu, U2, Polyphonic Spree, Everclear, Fuel, Oleander, etc. He was also a Grammy nominee.

http://www.recordproduction.com/chris-bell-record-producer.html

I'm pretty sure Chris knew what he was doing when he produced this album.

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, that resume tells me he has no idea how to record red monroe ...

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

come on man, their record sounds great! like this review, it sounds like your searching for error.

1:36 PM  
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8:20 AM  
Anonymous Jerry Blackbird said...

I fell asleep reading this review last week and just woke up to finish it. When did these reviews get so damn long? RM is a damn good band with tons of potential...even if they are in their mid 40's and have hair transplants. - Blackbird out!

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Anonymous James said...

Not to be a dork, but I know for a fact that most of these songs were recorded all in one take.... could've been over-produced later, but I doubt it. I've heard from very reliable sources that this album took less than a week to make.... not sure what could be more garage and less polished than that. I actually wonder if a little more time spent on production could've achieved that "under-produced" sound we're craving... you think?

11:56 AM  

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