Beast Jams

The USA Is a Monster's virulent war stomp.

Sunset at the End of the Industrial Age is an instant classic. In fact, it's the USA Is a Monster's third in a row since 2003, which means the Brooklyn duo is totally peaking like Black Flag and the Minutemen circa '84. It's an exhilarating and all too rare thing to experience; most indie bands—no, all bands—are lucky if they manage to squirt out three decent songs. Then again, only a thimbleful of heads out there even agree with this perspective because the Monster's snarling, politically conscious progcore and anthemic Native American–inspired war chants about the environment haven't quite set the underground on fire like other freak-rock acts that have recorded for Load Records (arguably America's most revered noise-rock imprint). These include the mighty Lightning Bolt, Arab on Radar, and Pink and Brown. Matter of fact, music writer Brandon Stosuy summed up what many music fanatics think of the Monster in a 2005 post for the Village Voice blog when he dismissed the "loud math-rock" duo as "pale imitators" of Lightning Bolt "distinguished only by their guitarist's questionable balding-on-top/dreads-in-back thing."

"Noise and noise-rock people don't get them because they do 'songs,'" Ben McOsker explains via e-mail. McOsker runs Load Records, a longtime fixture on the fertile Providence, R.I., music scene. "And indie-rock folks don't get them because they're too noisy. Either way, the band makes some of the most compelling kick-ass brain fuzz going."

As McOsker points out, drummer and synth player Tom Hohmann and guitarist Colin Langenus (they share vocals) are true tweeners, and that's because both of them are longtime nomadic outsiders incapable of settling down into any one scene. Back in the mid-'90s, Langenus and Hohmann were college kids dropping acid and jamming as two-thirds of Bullroarer, a Boston-based trio churning out pummeling, 45-minute psychedelic jams that were utterly unrefined fusions of hardcore aggression and primal sludge rock.

"We started off playing with hardcore bands because that was the only scene to tour in back then," Langenus says from a pay phone somewhere between Texas and New Mexico. Often resembling a homeless Deadhead decked out in neon tie-dye, Langenus (aka Colin Matthews) brings a Meat Puppets–fried cowpunk aesthetic and a virulently anti-mainstream lyricism to the Monster.

A formative influence during their Boston years was Fat Day, an obscure yet now legendary quartet of far-out intellectuals attending Harvard who transformed hardcore into a proto–math rock that exploded like an overly caffeinated kid's temper tantrum. In fact, Fat Day's music—to amend Stosuy's original comments—is the common denominator linking the Monster and Lightning Bolt. This bizarre little group is the bridge from New England hardcore to the artsy noise-rock that McOsker traffics in.

After Bullroarer's demise, Hohmann and Langenus relocated to Charlottesville, Va., formed the Monster, and in 2001 found themselves—while touring the country—in South Dakota, standing at the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. It was an epiphany, particularly for Hohmann, a true eco-hippie. He started injecting the Monster's jams with massive doses of Native American folk music and mythology, which resulted in the first two of three brilliant discs: Tasheyana Compost and Wohaw. What's more, both records show off the duo's growing composition skills and love for big-time rock moves à la Rush and Queen.

"All we had on tour was the radio," Hohmann admits after his longtime partner passes him the phone, "and we listened to classic rock stations all day long."

The past decade has definitely been a long, strange journey for Langenus and Hohmann, and it's only getting stranger. Relocating to Brooklyn a few years ago, the Monster's already complex DNA now contains some world music and quasi- reggae rhythms. This accounts for the twisted "dance" grooves heard all over Sunset at the End of the Industrial Age, which, by the way, is a loosely structured sci-fi song cycle about the total collapse of the Western world and the re-emergence of the Native Americans' way of life. In the opener, "The Greatest Mystery," Hohmann and Langenus sing, "If the power grid suddenly fell apart, could you walk a new a new road with an open heart?"

Well, if current reactions to the USA Is a Monster are any indication, then the answer is a big, fat NO. Most folks—regardless of how alternative they think they are— dismiss music and art that's not obviously scene-centric, especially if it reeks of earnest crustie-punk and hippie vibes. Like Langenus' dreads, that stuff always makes hip, urban types totally uncomfortable. But it's of no concern to the Monster because these two dudes just keep on roaming 'n' rocking and doing their own thing—for real.

info@seattleweekly.com

 
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