Monks of Mellonwah: Turn the People

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I haven’t listened to regular modern rock in a while … usually when I want to hear a rock band, I reach for the old stuff: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Beatles, etc. My older sister, by about eight years, always played good oldies on my dad’s speaker system when we got home from school, or when she was babysitting me, and I went through a huge phase in high school, so the classics will always have a place in my rotation.

I’ve grown into more technical rock, too, like Rush, Dream Theater, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, etc. as my appreciation for highly skilled musicianship has increased alongside my desire for higher audio fidelity. Funny how that works: when you start buying nicer music gear, you start listening to better music. You really just start hearing more details, which lets you really appreciate things you were probably just flat out not hearing before.

Monks of Mellonwah (From their website)
Monks of Mellonwah
(From their website)

Anyways, what I don’t get a lot of is new rock. Sometimes I forget people even make music like this any more … I guess part of me feels like the genre died before I was even born. I mean, yeah, there was Nirvana. And then what? System of a Down is about the only thing I would consider “rock” made post-2000 that I listen to on a regular basis. Most of it just, well, you know … all sounds the same.

It’s refreshing to hear guys doing new rock, and that’s what the Monks of Mellonwah are after. Their newest album, Turn the People, sounds a bit like, well, a lot of bands at first listen, but the Monks have a few tricks up their sleeves that are compelling and closer listening reveals a wide breadth of influences, perfectly synced musicianship, and a catchy, neo-indie-pop sound.

I’ll say off the bat that the vocals have a bit too much of a heartthrob feel for me, but I’m sure the girls will love it. As for the music itself, it’s very well done. It’s nothing incredibly original in terms of composition, but the integration of electronic elements is very tasteful: their use of synthesized bass is not intrusive and lays an interesting foundation for what is otherwise pretty normal alt rock.

Don’t get me wrong, these guys are obviously talented: they play really, really well together, and the end result is good music, but it’s definitely pretty normal alternative rock music as far as their overall style can be categorized. The lead guitar shreds with serious passion and there is some impressive fingerwork going on; I wish they’d let him come forward more, personally. The vocal focus is understandable, given that it seems to be targeted at a broader audience, but I’d like to see a little bit more time with the spotlight on the instruments; if you pay attention, you can tell that everyone in this band really knows their piece, but as it sits, their talent is utilized mostly in their timing and cohesiveness rather than showcasing the full depth of their musicianship.

These guys get big kudos for diversity, especially considering their genre and intended audience; the breadth of their influences isn’t obvious at first listen, but if you hear the whole album and pay attention, you’ll hear quite a few things you might not expect.

The Monks didn’t appeal to me on first listen, but after spending more time with them and really listening intently, it’s obvious that these guys are very tight and well-rehearsed and they manage to incorporate an impressively diverse array of influences despite their mainstream-leaning sound.

Their use of orchestral samples is surprisingly fluent, and doesn’t sound overblown or excessively dramatic; the violins in “Alive for a Minute” are a nice touch, just enough to fill up the background.

There are even some tracks where I detect a touch of Rage Against the Machine: the heavy basslines in  “Afraid to Die” really make me think of The Battle of Los Angeles, and some of the guitar in “Vanity” reminds me of that funk-rock style more than anything that shares an overall sound with the Monks.  They definitely sport quite a bit of indie rock influence for a band that seems to target the mainstream to some degree.

Monks of Mellonwah (From their website)
Monks of Mellonwah
(From their website)

“Tear Your Hate Apart” is probably my favorite track off the album, starting of with a healthy dose of kick drum and Vikram Kaushik’s characteristic ethereal vocals, leading into a grittier, synth-lined hook. It’s a pretty full, complex track for a pop band, and while no one instrument really highlights the skill of its musician here, the track is extremely well composed and perfectly executed. It’s a very passionate, heartfelt song; pop tracks don’t usually grab me quite like this, but I really felt it from these guys.

The title track, “Turn the People,” is another one that caught my ear. It’s probably their best showcase of properly integrated synthesized bass. There is even a hint of dubstep-esque bass tonal modulations. The kick integrates nicely with the synths, and the tone of the whole song is very characteristic of the Monks’ style: a sort of start-and-stop pacing with emotional vocals and even blend of synths and instruments. There is some fairly impressive guitar work at intervals, too; as always, I wish it was a bit more prominent, but it really shines when it’s there. They seem more bent on evolving away from guitar-centric rock of decades past, and they do a very good job of integrating synthesized sounds and real instruments nicely.

The following track, “Downfall,” is one of their simpler, slightly punk-leaning songs, and they still make heavy use of bass, with a good amount of metal-esque speed-demon guitar work to back it up. It’s still clearly pop, but they like to blur the lines. I bet these guys listened to plenty of Incubus growing up, because it’s the only thing I can think of that sounds really similar in terms of overall composition.

Come to think of it, MOM shares quite a few things in common with Incubus; they would be an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a more modern, slightly more pop-oriented take on Incubus’s very characteristically 90’s sound.

On the whole, the Monks definitely deserve the international attention they’ve garnered. Their pop-rock sound isn’t a style that I normally find myself drawn to, but MOM has made themselves a rare exception. If this is the next big thing, or any sign of where pop music is headed internationally, I’m totally okay with it; beats the hell out of Justin Bieber, that’s for damn sure.