From Monument to Masses
Bottom of the Hill
February 26, 2009
Review by Brian Moss
Better Than: Any other band I've witnessed since the New Year turned.
In our recently turbulent times, while an unarticulated fuck Bush song has seemed to have an obligatory place on most records, music has seemed to lack the sense of impassioned urgency and protest that has been present in the past. It's been awhile since From Monument to Masses has graced the Bay Area with a show. The highly politicized instrumental trio formed here in 2000 and released three acclaimed records on hardcore scene icon turned DJ Steve Aoki's Dim Mak label. They toured off and on and then scaled back local shows in 2006 when drummer/programmer/keyboardist Francis Choung moved to New York. Despite being a bi-costal band, they're still actively writing and traveling. Last night, as part of the Noise Pop festivities, all three of the boys were back in town for a one-off local date.
Although stylized correlations to such post-rock acts as Tortoise, A Silver Mt. Zion, and the Mercury Program could lead to unfair comparisons, From Monument to Masses brings far more into the equation. Drawing as much from punk, hardcore, and hip-hop as they do from ethereal neo-prog, their sound spans from hushed electronic subtlety to ferocious intensity and volume. Simply put, they defy classification. Outside of the expression of political stances in interviews, liner notes, and bios, the band regularly incorporates an array of dissident samples into their songs. Often arranged in what feels like a linear progression, these clips replace the need or desire for vocals. This is the real deal, folks. It's an intellectual aural endeavor; it's dense, full of twists, and backed by the belief that music can function as a catalyst for interpersonal and societal revolution.
It started with a tapped guitar melody. Then the drums hit, sublevel bass dropped, computer electronics were cued, and effects were weaved in. Bottom of the Hill's packed main room, and congested hallway, where I happened to be standing, surged. In technically apt orchestrated beauty and ebb and flow mood swings From Monument to Masses hit the speakers sounding twenty professionals deep as a mere threesome. With headphones cueing every electronic hit and glitch, Choung never missed a beat or fill. Swaying in complexity, guitarist and pedal board aficionado Matthew Solberg and five-stringed low end guru Sergio Robledo-Maderazo displayed syncopated drive and brilliant interplay without ever crossing over into masturbatory Guitar Center self-indulgence. Fittingly so, the banter was kept to a minimum as the songs and samples, primarily cued from activist speeches and movie monologues, spoke for themselves. Midway through the set, during a brief lapse in material, Sergio announced that the show was somewhat of a release party for the band's new record and proceeded to encourage any "google-friendly" member of the audience to download a pirated copy. To the pleasure and content of anticipating audience members, new material was unveiled and old jams were dropped. After less than an hour the band respectfully ended their set and was then beckoned out for a humble one song encore.
With new complacency and apathetic hope setting in following November's political shift, some musicians remain diligently committed to using creations and voices as a means for manifesting ideas, awareness, and with a little luck, change. In both song and resonating ideology, From Monument to Masses embodies music reaching its higher potential - art that extends beyond escapist entertainment with the intent of bettering society as a whole.
Random Detail: From Monument to Masses' new full length, entitled On Little Known Frequencies, officially hits the shelves on March 10th .
By The Way: Steal that shit if you feel inclined.