Monobrow are Growing

They may be relative newcomers, but Ontario trio Monobrow have their collective hands in a number of heavy rock tropes on their self-titled Meatlocker Records debut. Though the album feels long in this age of attention deficit at just under 54 minutes, Monobrow manage to keep things interesting with a number of different approaches brought to bear, including the occasional jam part, crunching riffs and occasional psychedelic flourishes. Entirely instrumental, their approach won’t seem revolutionary to veteran ears, but as they formed in 2009 and are really just figuring out their sound, they make a good go of it on these eight tracks anyway.

The shortest song on Monobrow’s Monobrow is just over five minutes, and what that means to the listener is that the three-piece – Paul Slater (ex-Sir Hedgehog) on guitar, Sam Beydoun on bass, Brian Ahopelto on drums – allow the material its due time to develop. Right away on opener “Naught Witch,” it’s Slater in the lead, layering solos on top of rhythm tracks with Beydoun and Ahopelto following behind, the former with fills that come out even better on headphones, and the latter driving the turns and changes that the song calls for. The ultimate test for an instrumental band is, “Are the vocals missing?” and indeed there are a few spots on Monobrow where they are – even Beydoun and Slater’s lyrical interplay on second cut “From the Brown Sun” not completely erasing the feeling that more should be there than is.  The somewhat longer “Ministry Queen” (7:53) introduces the more jam-based elements, and it becomes clear through listening that the three players have developed a genuine chemistry between them, especially Beydoun and Ahopelto. Slater’s fuzzier tone, brought appropriately to the fore by Paul “Yogi” Granger’s mix, gives way about five minutes into the song to airier tones and more highlight low end. In the case of trios, and even more so when there aren’t vocals to hide behind, every member has to really contribute, and in Monobrow, each definitely does.

“Troubled Apostle in the Chamber” – the shortest piece on Monobrow at 5:04 – boasts a highlight start-stop groove and a structure no less intriguing for its repetition, while “Buried in the Backyard” breaks almost in half, moving from straightforward stoner riffing into Monobrow’s most outwardly psychedelic passage. As the full-length’s progression moves from the middle toward the end, the more careful listener will appreciate the changes. Some of Ahopelto’s drumming feels too busy to really let the guitars breathe as they should, but Beydoun’s rumble keeps right in line, and as they return to the beginning section to close “Buried in the Backyard,” the grounding effect seems all the more purposeful. At 8:39, “Low Water” is one of the instances where I most crave singing, but I don’t know what would work over the material save for some John Garcia cloning, and frankly, that’s been done to death already, so maybe Monobrow really is better off without. Either way, the song motors, but the album has already revealed its methods, so when “Man Without a Watch, Man,” even with Slater’s dueling solo work, there isn’t anything Monobrow haven’t showed before. If you’re hypnotized by the riffs or just letting the record roll over you, it’s not a problem, but if you’re going to sit and nitpick each track – first, you’re probably missing the point – but second, you’re going to notice.

A fadeout ends “Man Without a Watch, Man” and quickly comes back up for “Swan of the Superplanet,” Monobrow’s longest jam at 9:22. The opening guitar segment reminds of Solace’s “Rice Burner,” but no more so than it does of numerous other stoner licks of the kind. The album ends with Slater’s best showing on guitar and an energetic response from Beydoun and Ahopelto, and though when it’s over I still feel like Monobrow have work to do in developing their sound on an individualized level, I’m equally reassured at the level of tightness at play. For seekers of the fuzz, followers of the riff and friends of the heavy, their take should be right at home in your ears.

Monobrow on MySpace

Meatlocker Records

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One Response to “Monobrow are Growing”

  1. Mike H says:

    I’m diggin’ the the first track. It’s solid and fuzzy and riffy and…

    I’m not missing the vocals either.

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