Man Like Machine, Monuments
Kung Fu Necktie
Thursday, December 30th, 2010
It’s never a mild, normal night, meteorologically speaking, when I go to Kung Fu Necktie. Nope. Instead, the temp is always bottoming out around 20? or soaring somewhere in the 90’s. ANYWAY, New York’s Monuments had just started their set as I limped in out of the cold. Not a bad band, though certainly nothing groundbreaking. They, like many of their colleagues, are taking up where British shoegazers left off ten years ago. The songs were spacey, wide open, and meandering. Though, what separates the good bands in this genre (Beach House, Grizzly Bear, Interpol) from the great bands (Mogwai, Kayo Dot, Isis, 27, Jesu) is that with the latter all the meandering actually goes somewhere. Given time, further experimentation, and a completely different approach to their vocals, Monuments have the potential to make some really interesting music.
By the time Man Like Machine (MLM) came on, I had nearly slipped into a sonically induced coma. MLM is composed of vocalist/guitarist Joshua Bright, bassist/keyboards/programmer Giuseppe DiCristino, and drummer Wesley DiSonrisas. Their newest EP, Kills for Thrills, released in late 2010, is the latest snapshot of the band’s chaotic, amorphous approach to songwriting. The balls on the bass and synth passages suggest some form of allegiance to bands like Brainiac and The Locust, where electro-decay and tight low end give the overall sound a jerky, unstable quality: organized chaos is a good phrase. DiSonrisa’s drumming is controlled, restrained, and rather technical. The result of all of this is a certain thickness that lends itself simultaneously to the dance-friendly sound of The Faint and the machine-like tone of projects like Nine Inch Nails and Aphex Twin. Bass swells in songs like “Smoking Gun” (Kills for Thrills, 2010) mutate the otherwise pop-driven guitars and vocal patterns just enough to cement the band’s claims to originality. Yes, the songs are hopelessly catchy, but only as much as they are strange, weird… twisted even. What does all of this add up to? It’s called good songwriting.
Just as on Kills for Thrills, the live Machine did not disappoint. Bright’s vocals were loud, crisp, and dead on. He claimed the reverb on the screamed parts of the chorus to “Slay Me,” (a song, by the way, that will bore itself into your ear and set up shop for weeks at a time) was accidental, but had it not been there the hairs on my arms might have only been raised half as high. “She’s a Thriller,” also on MLM’s Thrills EP was one of more than a few highlights that evening. On the record, the vocals for the verses are spastic, but melodious (nothing like the whining that pervades most post-rock bullshit today). The guitars sound as though they just bought heroin from John Coltrane: spazzed, restless, and homeless. The drums are just complex enough to stand out, but ultimately restrained, instituting some good, purposeful repetition. Thanks to DiSonrisas, the pre-chorus is surprisingly heavy. The kind of heavy that characterizes most Primus albums: you know they were going for more than just brutality, but you did shit yourself regardless. The electronic break at the two and a half minute mark is indicative of where the band excels. The guitars are tinged with tremolo, fuzz, and Pet Sounds-era surf, the synth/keyboards hover somewhere between decay and infectious groove, while delayed vocals waft betwixt it all. And live, with Man Like Machine, these arrangements suffered not a damn bit. Oh, and not to sound too hagiographic, but Man Like Machine’s cover of U2’s “New Years Day,” is fucking awesome. And I hate, hate, hate U2…
This was the second time I saw Man Like Machine, and it was the second time they blew me away. The only things this band needs are more time together as songwriters and more meditation on precisely which direction in which they want to go. Sadly, if they stay on the course they’re currently on, we’ll soon have to trade in our $8 Kung Fu Necktie tickets for $25 Clear Channel stubs…