Monarch- The Grandeur That Was Rome (Northern)
review by Joe del Tufo

Track Listing

1. talk is cheap/ the undefeated
2. create-a-monster
3. plug in, listen
4. wasteful
5. just perfect
6. turn around
7. I have deihl
8. leap years
9. tracing paper
10. now you see it
11. little walls

If there is any single release that was criminally overlooked, even entirely ignored, in 2004 it would be Monarch’s debut The Grandeur That Was Rome. Grandeur is a disc that essentially transforms catharsis into song. It is an explosion of diverse emotion splattered across 45 exhausting, euphoric minutes.  Monarch are alternately silent and subversive, or full of Tourettic outburst and blazing intensity, but they are always cogent and reluctant to detach. With bands like Thursday and Coheed and Cambria stamped across radio and MTV, how can this release, superior in every way, be relegated to virtual obscurity?

So who are these guys, anyway? I know next to nothing about them. I heard a track on XM, thought it was something that Radiohead might sound like with a more upbeat Sense Field’s Jeremy Bunch on vocals. And indeed this is emo meets post rock. And then some. Deep Googling reveals little- they are from Pittsburgh, which might explain some of the need to vent. Vocalist Brennan Strawn has a distinctive, fervent voice that is the thread to which all of these tracks are woven.

The tracks on The Grandeur are solid across the board. Not a bummer in the bunch. Most tracks seem to find their seed in the piano, with drums and vocals building up around it. Lyrics are vague, but sung passionately, almost confessionally. Sparse lines like “Hold on, my turn. Maybe. Sorry. Now what am I worth” (from the synth-driven Tracing Paper) are instilled with such honesty and fervor that their meaning becomes instantly personalized.

Piano-driven tracks like the opening Talk Is Cheap/ The Undefeated set a tone of buildup and progressive time signatures. Monarch builds up and breaks down the track repeatedly, each time adding intensity and emotional charge. String accompaniment pushes this even further.  But really, it is the infusion of emotion in Strawn vocals that hook you and refuse to let go.  Lyrically, there’s little complexity here (“don’t leave me now, don’t run, don’t leave me now, don’t love…”), really it’s all in the delivery.

Plug in, Listen takes a different approach with a more downbeat intro that coasts into a uplifting, (Unforgettable Fire-era) Bono-esque vocals. The melody and atmosphere created by this track make it a unique breath in an otherwise fiery disc. Later on Grandeur the track I Have Deihl takes a similar approach, and both songs create a nice balance to what might otherwise be cathartic overkill.

Wasteful is a more straightforward emo tune, very reminiscent of Sense Field or Copeland in both pace and delivery. Lyrically I have no idea what’s going on here- “I can’t keep fighting outlaws, I won’t keep burning down.” It really doesn’t matter, as if the vocals are really just another instrument, and their content is either so personal as to defy specific meaning, or so vague as to be interpreted individually.

If there is any single track that epitomizes the essence of Monarch, it is the infectious Leap Years.  The track is catchy as they come, with the jangly, mumbling opening leaning into the soaring “In a year, maybe again, I’ll be fine” chorus.  The track then breaks down into drums and guitars and then back around again. It’s a comparatively straightforward track, with its power is embedded in its simplicity. But I challenge you to get it out of your head.

After a few close listens, the music is undeniable. After a few more, you’ll be muttering about the genius of these guys from Pittsburgh who you likely never heard of.  I’m not sure how music like this falls through the cracks. Tracks as polished and catchy as these do not happen by accident. Hopefully with the support of avenues like XM, the power of the internet, and solid word of mouth, they will get their due.  Man, I can only imagine what these guys must be like live.

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ukz- radiation
pain of salvation - scarsick
icon- icon II, icon live
the pineapple thief- tightly unwound
planet p project- levittown (go out dancing part II)
nosound- lightdark
dengue fever- venus on earth
art of all- morgan
marillion- somewhere else
abigails ghost- selling insincerity
blackfield- blackfield II
damien rice- 9
the who- endless wire
the beach boys- good vibrations
the pineapple thief- little man
the killers- sam's town
tom petty- highway companion
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emm gryner- the summer of high hopes
jeremy enigk- world waits
razorlight- razorlight
gps- window to the soul
iron maiden- a matter of life and death
thom yorke- the eraser
richard butler- richard butler
the flaming lips- at war with the mystics
ray davies- other people's live
david gilmour- on an island
nosound- sol29
jackson browne- running on empty 5.1
neal morse- ?
king crimson- 21st century guide to king crimson
shriekback- cormorant
depeche mode- playing the angel
pallas- the dreams of men
my morning jacket- z
riverside- second life syndrome
roger waters- ca ira
various artists- backs against the wall
riverside- out of myself
sigur ros- takk
killers- hot fuss
queen + paul rodgers- return of the champions
journey- generations
yes- the word is live
emmylou harris- heartaches & highways
van der graaf generator- remaster series
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rpwl- world through my eyes
tori amos- the beekeeper
kino- picture
monarch- the grandeur that was rome
spocks beard- octane
the wonder stuff- escape from rubbish island
richard barbieri- things buried
the pineapple thief- 12 stories down
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jelly jam- 2
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van halen- the best of both worlds
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