With members hailing from opposite coasts of the United States, post-rockers From Monument to Masses have put together their first full-length of all new material in six years. Fans have no doubt been waiting with bated breath since 2005’s Schools of Thought Contend, a remix album that explored the compositions of their sophomore release The Impossible Leap in One Hundred Simple Steps, hoping for something new. And at long last, they’ve provided.
After such an extended absence, you might think that a band would be in a far different place than they were for their last record. In all probability, From Monument to Masses’ latest work, On Little Known Frequencies, would be a dramatic step forward into new territory. Its very title hints at some kind of unfounded sound exploration. Well, From Monument to Masses may venture out onto a bit more progressive post-rock ground here, but there isn’t all that much of an evolution from 2003’s The Impossible Leap…beyond a few added (if somewhat superfluous) elements and some beefed up production courtesy of co-producer Matt Bayles (Minus the Bear, Mastodon, Russian Circles). And frankly, most of the “new” ideas they attempt to incorporate into their tech-heavy instrumental rock seem forced and uninspired. Intricate, ethereal guitar cuts blend quite well with spacey keyboard work, especially on opener “checksum” and the catchy, unfortunately titled lead single “Beyond Good & Elvis,” but the orchestral strings and choral vocal work are decidedly hit or miss. And I honestly cannot even begin to understand why they would think to bring in a DJ for a segment of scratching on “The First Five.” Alright, so they use breakbeats in their music. I think we can all agree that it can have a really nice effect with this kind of guitar prowess. But scratching!? The last thing you want to be known as is the post-rock Linkin Park.
However, the most defining element of On Little Known Frequencies is a recurring one for From Monument to Masses, namely the use of spoken audio samples in place of lyrical content to convey themes and political ideas. Though this certainly helps set the band apart from their peers, these passages are completely lacking in subtlety and ultimately awkward in the context of the actual songs. The band claims to prefer this technique to “just saying what they feel,” but throwing an excerpt from a Mario Savio sit-in address over a slowing EKG reading in the middle of a song isn’t exactly any more original, poetic, or enlightening. Political music is dangerous terrain in the first place, but attempting to package relatively complex concepts in such an uncreative and straightforward way is distracting at best.
If you can get past this, there are some genuinely nice moments to be found on On Little Known Frequencies. When melody, rhythm, and technical skill coalesce smoothly with Matt Bayles’ rich production the results are enjoyable and at times moving. With a renewed approach and some additional finesse, these moments might be more abundant. Unfortunately, on this record they largely remain few and far between.
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