That Familiar Foreign Sound
Absolute Monarchs' Surprisingly Gritty and Girthy Rock
Absolute Monarchs realize a good song should sound both familiar and foreign. It should have qualities we associate with other music we love, but it should also bring something new to the table. It should have an element of surprise or mystery that works your brain like a puzzle. Obviously, different audiences have different preferences for that balance of the foreign and the familiar. The gap between casual and obsessive music fans can be defined by this preference, or by the die-hard fans' broader musical knowledge and resulting familiarity with different approaches than that of the demographic that only picks up a new album every couple of years. It also explains why music nerds push foreign sounds on unwilling ears and grumble over the success of music that's too "obvious," while the masses roll their eyes at the pretentiousness of would-be tastemakers.
Absolute Monarchs' debut album, 1, contains a definite degree of familiarity for those who savor the more gritty and girthy varieties of indie rock. The Seattle four-piece hints at elements of other bands throughout the record—there's Chavez's combination of guitar jangle and low-tuned riffage in "Bad Taste," Torche's doom pop in "Thinking Thieves," the Intelligence's fractured skronk in "Sharp," and Jawbox's proletariat post-hardcore in "It's Bad." But despite these reference points, the entirety of Absolute Monarchs doesn't really sound like anyone. The disparate bits and pieces they've borrowed from the past come together to create something unusual, something foreign.
Generally speaking, musical hybridization isn't novel enough to warrant special attention, particularly if it feels forced or contrived. But Absolute Monarchs' mashup of styles seems so natural, effortless, and effective that it almost makes one wonder why no one's attempted this particular blend before.
Of course, familiarity is relative. Yet even listeners who aren't privy to the aforementioned bands will undoubtedly hear something in Absolute Monarchs they can latch on to, even if it's just their ability to draw a pop hook out of scratchy guitars and fuzzy bass lines. And even the most well-versed music snobs should find something in the Monarchs' idiosyncratic blend to keep them intrigued.