This album didn’t do well at first listen for me. The spoken parts that begin the album and carry on as a theme throughout can come off as cheesy, (remember Our Lady Peace, Spiritual Machines?) The Monitor is reminiscent of the type of cocky punk that takes itself a little too seriously that was popular when Green Day’s American Idiot was released.
But that said, the band’s concept album loosely based around the American Civil War is ballsy. Half of the album’s songs weigh in at over 7 minutes in length, and the final song on the album, “The Battle of Hampton Roads”, is a whopping 14 minutes and 2 seconds long. To help fill out the sound of the new record, the 5-piece indie band enlisted the help of friends in bands Ponytail, Wye Oak, Hallelujah the Hills, Spider Bags, Vivian Girls, Double Dagger, Deer Tick, Dinowalrus, the Felice Brothers, and the Hold Steady to fill out the record’s sound with cello, fiddle, trombone, piano, and bagpipes. These guests also lend talents to voice monologues of Walt Whitman, Jefferson Davis, Abe Lincoln, and Double Dagger’s Nolen Strals voices Willian Lloyd Garrison as well as designing the cover art. The record was mastered by Greg Calbi, who also boasts involvement in projects for both Meatloaf and Fucked Up, so there’s no need to adjust your stereo if you feel like you’re hearing influences from other bands everywhere.
Whereas the first half of the album is about the band’s punk rock attitude, the second half folds down its middle finger, loses some of its snarl, and showcases the band’s indie rock stylings. Even second-last track “And Ever” which reprises the second track of the album is more relaxed than the bouncy party punk of “Titus Adronicus Forever”. In “The Battle of Hampton Roads” we reach the end of the climb to the top of the album, where we reach the epic conclusion that we’ve been building up to- bagpipes and brass and machine-gun like snare drums and all. The effect is awe-inspiring.
After I listened to through the album a few more times my verdict is this. The album is ambitious, but ultimately I think it succeeds. The concept of conflict is present throughout, and the music is draws on some heavy history while maintaining its listenability and without being too literal (something that the band’s distortion wouldn’t really be well suited to anyway). The vocals in the first half of the album are sometimes grating, but the follow-through in the second half far outweighs any small errors of ego. Overall this album is well-done, a high-production masterpiece for the indie band from New Jersey.
© Natascha Malta, Music Vice