Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mona Faces Up Torches And Pitchforks

When Nashville-based Mona eventually released their self-titled debut stateside last year, the otherwise decent-but-not-outstanding album was mostly buried under by a wave of contempt. The band was mostly ignored, dismissed, or ditched by reviewers who were aiming to teach them a lesson.

While they ultimately survived the sour reception, the title of their sophomore album suggests they haven't let it go. Torches & Pitchforks touches on how hesitant frontman Nick Brown felt afterward. It seems he doesn't know if he chose the wrong words or didn't express the band's confidence.

"You begin to wonder, are we the townspeople or are we the monster?" — Nick Brown 

If you agree with the most comprehensive but also favorably biased account on Laughing Hyenas, Brown and company were done wrong. Maybe. Much of the debate comes down to whether you think Mona are influential or influenced musicians. Mostly, it just detracts from the album at hand.

Aside from Torches & Pitchforks being an unfortunate album title and one of my least favorite tracks, there are plenty of high points with the second outing. The Frank Sinatra-inspired Goons (Baby, I Need It All) is one of them. It's a straight-up rock song with a speedy guitar solo riff, soaring chorus, and catchy eighties-style lyrics belted out with a modern passion until you appreciate the dual meaning.

Brown was inspired by Sinatra's interest in rock and roll despite having expressed a generalized dislike for it. In explaining the motivation for the song, Brown seems right in speculating that had Sinatra been born a decade or two later, he would have made rock and roll too. It's hard to say.

Goons (Baby, I Need It All) carries forward the album's take on duality, presenting a world that leaves only the thinnest line between branding something good or bad, saintly or evil. Of course, that sounds bigger than the album ultimately strives to be. The band isn't trying to take on the world in every track.

Often times, they slow down to settle on the back and forth of relationships with tracks like Freeway and Like You Do. It's these songs that also pinpoint a maturity in the band. While they are still setting their sights on eventual stardom, they are not always trying to fill an arena.

It's almost as if someone turned on the lights and Brown, along with Vince Guard (drums), Zach Lindsey (bass) and Jordan Young (guitar), immediately understood that big songs still reach people on an intimate and individual level.

They accomplished this by writing tighter lyrics, adding more reverb, and bringing down the bass. What they retain are hook-heavy choruses that provide Brown an opportunity to give his vocal prowess a big spotlight. When you start with songs like Cross The Line and Me Under, the vibe is right.

Other times, it still cuts both ways. Love Divine is almost self-indulgent, chugging along for almost seven minutes. L.L.L. plays out like filler compared to the other tracks. And Wasted sounds big but doesn't feel like it should sound big. It's as if the essence of the song is too thin but someone pumped it up with air anyway. And therein lies what frustrates reviewers sometimes. These songs sound right, but not so right.

Torches & Pitchforks By Mona Sets A 5.4 Fire On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although Torches & Pitchforks could have arguably been a bigger progression, it continues where the first release left off. Mona is moving ever closer to a breakthrough while producing tracks strong enough to open for big bands that share (or perhaps inspired) a commonality in tone and attitude.

Personally, I hope they do. In the meantime, enjoy mining the more pristine tracks. You can find Torches & Pitchforks by Mona on Amazon. The CD is also available at Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. Mona is currently touring the United States. Check Facebook for schedules.
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