Friday, July 4, 2008

The Monkeywrench Gabriel's Horn - The Stooges?

The MonkeyWrench

Gabriel's Horn
Birdman Records

The Monkeywrench has been around for 17 years. If you've heard of them, raise your hands. Anyone? Maybe you haven't heard of them, but the band is composed of punk/garage legends: Mark Arm and Steve Turner from Mudhoney, Tim Kerr of Big Boys, Poison 13, and numerous bands and production work for others, Tom Price from U-Men and Gashuffer, and Australian drummer Martin Bland of Lubricated Goat, The Primevils, and Bloodloss. If there ever was a conspiracy to have Iggy Pop cloned, Mark Arm takes is the likely candidate. His howls, growls, and wails are so prominent and memorable on Gabriel's Horn that it might really leave you wondering. In fact, this album could easily be repackaged as the new Stooges album and would have been received much better than their actual release. "Low On Air" reminds one of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" so much that it's almost poetic.

Gabriel's Horn is consistently great from beginning to end. Everything on it is soaked in raw blues guitar cranked up. Surprisingly, it's complex punk rock on "That's What You Get" with Steve Turner's basslines and Martin's definite '60s beat drumming, but the guitar! Riffy, low, dirty, and loud with acid drenched crunching. It's a lot to take in, but like every song on this platter, there's a lot to talk about. Unfortunately, one isn't able to point out the individual talents when it comes to the guitar since Tim, Tom, and Mark all play Gabriel's Horn. One will have to accept the descriptions alone. This stuff is nothing less than heavy. "Black Plastic Tarp" takes place during a drive, but goes from "There's a rip in the sky where my mind should have been" to

There's a black plastic tarp that will fix up the sky
imagine the wonders it can do for your life
A black magic tarp, I found it, it's mine!
Got it wrapped 'round my head to keep out the sky

One shouldn't even think of understanding the meaning. I don't get it, but there definitely is one. Mark's vocal rasp and screams only emphasize that he's after something. Great art leaves an interpretation open. Remember what it was like to read a book before you saw the movie? As if we don't need further proof that Iggy is channeled through Mark Arm, "Flashing New Dance Moves" is all the proof you need. It's got the beat of a an older rock 'n' roll dance tune (yes, rock 'n' roll was intended to be music to dance to) much like Raw Power. In fact, "Come on, let's dance!" is in the song, but it's got sexual perversion like "Loose."

Gabriel's Horn also gives out a heavy dose of overall weirdness on top of the raw but still structured anarchy of Tim Kerr's production, which somehow sounds live, raw, unfiltered, yet all musical parts can be equally heard and felt up front. One can hear this talent on releases he's produced such as People Get Ready from The Mooney Suzuki, The Cynics Living Well Is The Best Revenge, and The Downbeat 5, of which the latter two were recorded only six months apart from each other. For example, as basic a blues structure as the slow, Arm penned "Sunnyland" is, there's a a simple blues riff that is prominent, but only shares the same space with the rhythm, bass, some of the finest crashed out drumming around and some heavy stereo effects at the end. The weirdness also comes from the purposeful stereo production. There's just too much "raw" at times, so the heavier production allows the instruments to sound in better harmony while the parts are really distinct. Thus, Gabriel's Horn is definitely a hi fi stereo recording and can best be appreciated with headphones at full volume. The occasional and well placed effects are a nice bonus of psychedelic ear candy, but you'll only feel and hear the "swishes" if you've got great speakers turned up load or on headphones. The overall picture of Gabriel's Horn is the rawest garage punk gone amok and beautifully tripped out.

As if that's not enough, the cover of The Thirteenth Floor Elevators "Levitation" is enough to make this album a must own, but there's also a cover of LA's legendary The Flesheaters. In true deference to Mark Arm's sarcastic lyrics, the words

He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

from George Jones's "He Stopped Loving Her Today" reflects just how brilliant The Monkeywrench is by taking what many consider to be the best country music song out of its genre and turning it into what sounds like their own song.

Gabriel's Horn plays loud, tight, riffed, rebellious, and shocking, and truly garage from start to end. Even the experimental instrumentals of "Gabriel's Horn" and "Gabriel's Horn (Slight Return)" also listed as "Random 1" and Random 2" on the player readout, with added pianos and xylophones have seemingly random instrumentation that actually combines together in form, but the attempts at choral voices by these garage rock legends are just cool.

One thing that should be pointed out is that the order of the songs on the release are different from the order they're listed on the cover. This doesn't matter. If it helps, what's titled "Echo Canyon" on the cover is titled "Open Your Arms" on the CD or mp3 player readout. If Birdman Records decides to press new editions with this discrepancy corrected, then the current version with the songs printed in their current order would become a collectors item.

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