Monotonix, Unfortunately, Lives Up to its Name
Monotonix is a trio from Tel Aviv with the kind of cult power that attracts an audience that wants to be wowed more than transformed. Their music mimics the basics of power-vocaled American heavy metal – Black Sabbath Lite. It is not that these musicians are not skilled, nor is it that singer Ami Shalev does not have a strong enough voice (though it most certainly falls short of Gene Simmons or even good ole Ozzy) so much as that the stylized music can neither be taken seriously nor as a joke. These guys have obviously listened to the classics, but imitation alone falls short.
A prime example would be the song "On the Road" from Monotonix's self-titled EP, which starts with an anthemically rapid, discordant guitar riff that lapses into a Neolithically-simple macho-metal-crunching rhythm for the rest of the song. Ran Shimoni's drumming consists of steady double cymbal crashes punctuated by Shalev wailing: "It was the day that you spit me like the garbage out of your life." This is hardly the lyrical, heady music Kerouac heard in his head.
Monotonix’s chosen venue in Brooklyn, NY, Uncle Paulie's, is a truckstop shack at the edge of Greenpoint’s earth that requires a hike of several miles against mud and strewn sheetrock with ominous semitrucks and smelly garbage trucks bearing down on you most of the time. This Indie Rock Pilgrim’s Progress would make even the hardcore urban nomad think there must be something phenomenal at the end of the path. And usually, at Uncle Paulie’s, there is. But the highlight of Monotonix is not its music, but a stage performance that bears the features of the big tent revival, a combination of circus magic and holy water that entertains by way of being outrageous and derivative, which serves a double purpose of distracting from lack of substance and innovation. The predictably steady beat was acceptable enough for the mod Israeli Ladytron-alikes and froed hippie hipster boys in the front row to bash their heads around to.
Reeling back and forth and slamdancing into the giggling audience with his eyes peeled open comically, Freddy Mercury-esque Shalev almost convinces you that this is all a big spectacle for performance art – that he made up the band after being dared by his buddies to convince the world it was a real endeavor. He lies on the floor massaging the ground and writhing around like a big cat in heat, then leaps up and grabs a few pieces of plaster, setting them on top of cymbals and on the ground and lighting them on fire (a trademark move apparently, memorialized in immortal glory in their MySpace photos and videos). When smoke starts to rise, I look over at Uncle Paulie, the friendly guy who owns the place, and wonder if he's panicked. But he has the same expression on his face as I do – faintly bemused, as if he too has seen it all, and is not impressed. He keeps flipping burgers, popping beer and making change.
By no means am I making a treatise that there is no place for outrageous expression and performance in this kind of music -- I did enjoy the moments at the end of the show when they brought elements of their drum kit into the crowd and had crowd members thrash the highhat and snare. But on tape, I really don't feel there's any important reason to listen to this band when so many other bands are more sonically entertaining or artistically intricate. This is not the music Rob Harvilla would dedicate to his wife on a mixtape to remember as one of their favorite songs ever from that rowdy road trip across America. This is the music that you will barely remember in the nebulous haze of your hangover.
With the right marketing and costume changes, Monotonix could someday do stadium arena rock for the suburban, but it's the indie rock audience this band is angling for, playing with Silver Jews, Kimya Dawson, The Thermals, Oneida and Ted Leo on tour -- strange matches for a band that lists Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple and ABBA as its influences. With the right connections (which they already seem to have in the form of their charismatic rep Kevin Guthrie, who also represents Silver Jews), Monotonix could even become a modest critical success. Preaching to the choir on playful, faux-sinful fun, they fulfill the expectations of their name – monotonous in tone, emotion and performance antics. Imitation has yielded a beginning for Monotonix, but the best thing for this band to do would be to get more serious about making challenging music, play up their mass appeal marketing, or resign themselves to attaining Gwar-like status once they get better stunts.