Monks of Doom – Forgery

4 out of 5

Label: I.R.S. Records

Produced by: Dan Fredman

Back in the grand ol’ late 80s and early 90s, Camper van Beethoven were your roll-your-eyes friends.  Everyone knew ’em, and you hung out with them, but there was this slight feeling – thanks to lead David Lowery’s surfer-esque lilt and lyrical / musical tendencies that were brushed with Zappa-like surrealism and goofiness – that they just weren’t, like, cool.  They were nerds.  When CvB split and Cracker emerged, they’d grown up a bit but also narrowed down their sound to something more, perhaps, conventional. Meanwhile, members of the band formed Monks of Doom, and this was that cool friend of a friend, almost absent-mindedly hip, off doing their own thing.  Their embrasure of more prog elements than CvB seemed to give them a rougher edge.  Hip, man.

Years on, time has shifted that view.  CvB were/is the shit.  Cracker is the shit.  Yes, they were nerds, but they embraced it and kept the spirit alive, resulting in a back catalogue – and more to come! – that’s proven to be a unique folk/rock/punk experience through and through.  MoD didn’t last, but looking back, that friend-of-a-friend still lives in his mother’s basement, writing poetry and wearing an old leather jacket.  The group’s cool on its own merits, for sure, but once you’ve gotten to know ’em, the sheen has worn off and you can see the shab.

This seems like a slam, but now that I see the shab, I like the band a whole lot more.  I see them as a product of a specific time and place, and equally unique as the CvB lineage – part of it, you could say – despite it maybe not having as much lasting appeal.  To flip back to the metaphor, you actually admire MoD when hanging out in that basement; you understand why they’re there.   But you don’t necessarily want to stay there or live on your own mother’s basement, either.

On Forgery, this translates to wholly fascinating compositions that blend some straight-ahead rock with latter-day CvB style folk-pop and some interesting prog and instrumental diversions.  The production is warm and fantastic, capturing the strength of the drums and bass without clipping the guitar or various extras.  Early MoD albums perhaps pushed the weird envelope a little more; its rewarding to hear them hone that to a more concise representation of their skills: There’s sincerely no boring passage or lacking hook on the disc, and most tracks add at least one surprising twist on convention.  David Immergluck’s lyrics are somewhat prosaically overwrought (he definitely wants you to hear what he’s saying) but his passionate and sincere singing style makes it work.  And true, even with this more crystallized version of their sound, there’s not really a clear single that screams for the album to be your next obsession or recommendation, which is definitely part of what’s relegated MoD to being a common used bin find.

But, as usual, taking an album like Forgery on its own terms, instead of trying to factor in all the history and context, allows it to shine.  And given how well composed and sequenced the album is, it’s not hard to give yourself over to such exploration.

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