Noise is work. Ask a bagpiper or a physics teacher. If we need new noise, as hardcore icons Refused told us we did back in the Clinton years, then it stands to reason that we'll have to work for it. That's where From Monument To Masses come in.
Since 2002, Matthew Solberg, Sergio Robledo-Maderazo, and Francis Choung have been at work crafting a political dialogue, in which the voices belong to statesmen and revolutionaries and plain old pissed-off men-on-the-street, and the pedestals are tortuous, towering instro-rock epics. The topic changes from song to song -- foreign policy, land rights, education, a certain unpopular military engagement -- but the question doesn't. The epigraph to one FMTM track, originally snarled by Christian Slater in Pump Up The Volume, asks it point blank: "You ever get the feeling that everything in America is completely fucked up?"
This band, split between New York and San Francisco, does. But then
so do a lot of us; what FMTM have to offer is the work ethic to push the
discussion further. "What is new noise at this time?" says
Robledo-Maderazo. "There's a need for music and art and television shows
that are challenging, that aren't trying to dumb things down or make us
ignore and forget things, but challenging people to think of new art
forms, and by extension new thought forms, new politics." "We have a
thesis," agrees Solberg, "which is not to say that we have all the
answers, but that there are these really complex problems, and if we can
explore these through music and get people to think about them, we're
doing our jobs as cultural workers."
On Little Known Frequencies, the trio's fourth release with L.A.'s Dim Mak Records, puts its chorus of sound bites to work sketching an America only the morbidly cynical would have predicted ten years ago. Whereas their last proper album, 2003's The Impossible Leap in One Hundred Simple Steps, was an elaborate but direct response to the attacks of September 11th, this one concentrates on the knottier issues that have splintered off since then, particularly those that don't get much airtime -- hence the title. "I'm really happy that Obama's been elected, but I wonder what that's going to do to the Left's sense of responsibility," says Solberg. "Did we suddenly win? Are our problems solved? I think clearly not, but it demands that people look a little deeper into the nature and causes of the shit creek that we're up."
Promoting discussion is no small task for an instrumental act, with or without vocal samples or field recordings -- the cryptic conspiracy-theory diagrams of post-rock godfathers Godspeed You! Black Emperor come to mind as cautionary example. But FMTM show an earnest desire to hear out the faceless fulminators quoted in each piece, and a natural grasp of the same emotive cues that make movie soundtracks work; Frequencies is their most intricate and affecting work to date, politics or no. Its microcosms have distinct moods that often turn on a dime into their own opposites, flirting with resolution before plunging into the other side of the debate -- the twinkling synth that pierces through the gloom of "An Ounce of Prevention," the funereal strings that hang around the scorched-earth war dissection of "Hammer & Nails."
So maybe new noise is music that asks questions it doesn't claim to answer. Without denying bias altogether, the band is wary of laying on the politics too thick. "We're not interested in putting forward a front that says we're all toeing a strict party line," reflects Solberg. "I think creating change has a lot to do with meeting people where they're at. In order to make progress, we all need to make progress together." With their lockstep technical finesse and attention to the delicate balance of disparate voices, that may be what FMTM do best: illustrate the fruits of collective struggle, from the inside out. "There's nothing that goes into the music that all three of us can't get behind on some level," says Solberg. "And that's rad." Tomorrow the world.
From Monument to Masses' album On Little Known Frequencies (Dim Mak) is out on Mar. 10..