Pulling far from their shores, Danish psych outpost El Paraiso issues the second album from San Diego quintet Monarch. The record is a fuller offering than their debut, built around a tense nest of guitar interplay and storm-worn waves of organ. Owing much to the latter half of the ‘70s in the formation of their sound, the band eschews the type of loose, sandy riffs that have permeated a lot of their fellow West Coasters these days and they’re toughening this one up into the kind of sweat-shined, coke-veined records that blew out through ’75 and beyond, hardening the arteries of rock into the beast it would become in the ‘80s. Now, on the surface that sounds like a setup for the kind of rock n’ roll dress-up that’s perpetrated by Greta Van Fleet among other shoddy revivalists, but Monarch are careful to embody the spirit and not just the signifiers of this era.
They’re not working wholesale to scratch at one particular band’s niche, instead weaving the excesses of the era into a tumbling, tussling album that’s not afraid to tack on a sax coda if need be. They embody the feeling of artists holed up in the studio working to put their sunken eyes and shaking fingers to work on the riff that won’t let them sleep. The album has a ragged opulence to it, the kind of rock album that’s not necessarily approached anymore because it had been deemed a bit bloated in its day. The same kind that are now finding second wind with new generations scratching below the surface of the radio royalty and essential albums lists. The band centers the album on a trilogy of songs “Beyond The Blue Sky > Phenomena > Counterpart” that sees them building something bigger than mere single takes. This isn’t the same vein as the more amiable jam contingent building around the country, there’s progression, but also desperation and it’s an oddly welcome feeling to the newer progressive movements.
Beyond The Blue Sky’s title might hint at what the band is aiming for here, an album that leaves behind the sunny notions of California and instead finds itself slumped in the back of a towncar staring at the lights on the strip as they creep by, numb to charms of the salt air outside of the air-conditioned cab. This one might not be a constant companion, but its worth absorbing at least a few times. It’s thornier, slipperier and harder than it appears at first blush, a slowly unfolding story full of lies and leers.
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