Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Monks: Black Monk Time

"Krautrock Sampler" by Julian Cope, which is a book, is available in an electronic edition...and at the very beginning he mentions a music group made up of GIs stationed in Germany in the '60s called "The Monks" as a possible missing link between conventional music and Krautrock, the latter being completely fucked up taken to the extreme psychedelic rock. Beyond anything commercially known in the U.S., where "Psychedelic Rock" is a euphemism for "Classic Rock", which in turn is a marketing device for putting absolute schlock out there that once had good ratings and calling it counter cultural. You're not challenging anyone listening to Rush or Styx, folks. It turns out that "Black Monk Time", the only Monks album with the original line up, is also floating out there on the internet. I procured a copy and now it's entered into heavy rotation. What to say about "Black Monk Time'?

It sounds like the people who recorded it were blasted out of their minds to the point that they were deep into drug induced psychosis. The lyrics are largely random semi-coherent strangeness reflecting as Julian Cope points out that they were performing for an audience that didn't really understand English and so didn't know the difference. You have Higgle-dy-Piggle-dy, which takes the familiar phrase "Higgledy Piggledy" and turns it into a weird sort of mispronounced anthem. "Someone stole my cuckoo, I want to know who who, did you take my cuckoo?" goes "Cuckoo". The music itself is really completely distorted and strangely angular, like they had been listening to too many polkas and had absorbed the rhythm into their music.

The music is sort of like a hockey game organ backup to the chorus of non-sensical vocals. There doesn't seem to be any bass drum, high hats and snare drums are basically it for percussion, along with a rattle.

Sort of like an album where people took "They're coming to take me away" as a starting point and went off towards other directions with it, sometimes making things that in a sort of very strange way resemble popular music contours of the early sixties...like if someone took a song form that sounded like early Beatles, totally hollowed it out and replaced what was inside with strangeness so that the thing still vaguely sounded like it was based on popular music.

Sometimes it doesn't have any precedent whatsoever, at least as far as I can tell.

But it's good because it's completely, totally, and irredemiably fucked up beyond all recogntion, a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

As Julian Cope says, it's unfiltered chaos by people who realized that not a lot of folks really cared about what they were or weren't doing with their music, so cut loose in a sort of nihilistic trip to nowhere.

*on edit: with Krautrock in general, but not so much with the Monks, I'm reminded of the scene in Thomas Pynchon's book "The Crying of Lot '49" where the main character goes into a '60s Silicon Valley bar and sees a band performing using pure sine waves to make music, totally anachronistic.

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