The Monks - Black Monk Time 2LP
Light in the Attic Records
The story of the Monks is one of those rock & roll tales that seems too good to be true -- five Americans soldiers stationed in Germany form a rock band to blow off steam, and after starting out playing solid but ordinary R&B-influenced beat music, their songs evolve into something that bear practically no relation to anything happening in pop in 1966. If anything, the Monks were far wilder than their story would suggest; they may have looked bizarre in their matching black outfits, rope ties, and tonsures, but it was their music that was truly radical, with the sharp fuzz and feedback of Gary Burger's guitar faced off against the bludgeoning clang of Dave Day's amplified banjo (taking the place of rhythm guitar), as Roger Johnston pounded out minimalist patterns on the drums, Eddie Shaw's electric bass gave forth with a monstrous throb, and Larry Clark's keyboard bounced off the surfaces of the aural melee. This would have been heady stuff even without Burger's wild-eyed vocals, in which he howls "I hate you with a passion, baby," "Why do you kill all those kids over there in Vietnam?" and "Believing you're wise, being so dumb" over the band's dissonant fury. The closest thing the Monks had to a musical counterpart in 1966 were the Velvet Underground, but existing on separate continents they never heard one another at the time, and while Lou Reed and John Cale were schooled in free jazz and contemporary classical that influenced their work, the Monks were creating a new species of rock & roll pretty much out of their heads. Given all this, it's all the more remarkable that they landed a record deal with a major German label, and while Black Monk Time, their first and only studio album, doesn't boast a fancy production, the simple, clean recording of the group's crazed sounds captures their mad genius to striking effect, and the mingled rage and lunatic joy that rises from these songs is still striking decades after they were recorded. Within a year of the release of Black Monk Time, the band would break up (reportedly over disagreements about a possible tour of Vietnam), and the two singles that followed the LP were more pop-oriented efforts that suggested the Monks couldn't keep up this level of intensity forever. But in late 1965, the Monks were rock & roll's most savage visionaries, and Black Monk Time preserves their cleansing rage in simple but grand style.