From Monuments to Masses
Reviewed by Joe Lockard
Monday, June 17 2002, 6:09 PM
This first self-released album is revolutionary only in it's irredeemable shallowness. From Monument to Masses is a new Oakland-based wanna be post-math rock group that has more politics than music, an enduring equation for acoustic misery whose closest genre affiliation is really instrumental emo. There is an uncharming chutzpah in musicians who raise a political flag over their music without artistic skill or political insight to merit claims to creativity in either domain. Invocations of struggles by people of color to promote a fifth-rate album full of poorly edited and mixed samples demean those same contests, rendering them only a referential benchmark for a patronizing attempt at protest music.
The first track, "00:00:36", begins energetically -- almost promising to be an Asian Dub Foundation soundalike -- and then slips into a mix of stereotypically midwestern rock guitar work and overly long clips of progressive political rhetoric. Think early Steel Pole Bath Tub with a healthy dose of white boy liberal moralizing. About two minutes into the album, good listener intentions disappear and the sentimental heart turns cold. By the following track, "SM-NL," it's clear that this is a problem of musicianship: these guys were let out of the garage years too early. Several tracks are little more than scales practice just one stage more complex than 'Chopsticks'. Percussion is rudimentary, as is the mixing work.
"Conclusions That Don't Conclude" is a sappy, thumping narrative of a track that deserves a quick conclusion that it unfortunately does not get. Narrative is the word, since Monument to Masses generally treats its music as an acoustic framework for the shouted political word. The radical pastiche is suggestive -- "It's time to pick up the gun, the revolution has come" suggests one choral snippet in "Hasta la Victoria Siempre" -- and arrives like a bored-weird edition of Bartlett's Quotations. The album's lowest point is the clichȠof giggling children's voices.
This last "Victoria Siempre" track nearly dies of Repetition Boredom Syndrome before it drags out the last few miserable bars and concludes with a wholesale appropriation of the Negativlandish "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" advertising jingle. From Monument to Masses closes with a shouted "We will not give up the fight! We will not give up the fight!" Such formless, well-meaning liberal hyperbole makes Rage Against the Machine's adoration of the Sendero Luminoso almost refreshing. With records like these, Ani di Franco sounds as intellectually rigorous as Judith Butler.
For more information on From Monuments to Masses, stop by their website.