Thelonious Monster have put out their first new album in sixteen years, and Oh That Monster – streaming at Bandcamp – was worth the wait. Bob Forrest still has his creepy Leonard Graves Phillips voice, guitarists Chris Handsome and Dix Denney still wail, and the rhythm section of bassist Martyn LeNoble and drummer Pete Weiss hit as hard and as diversely as they did back when the band were a big draw on the club circuit. Their purist blend of punk rock and soul draws a straight line back to the first wave of punk in the 70s, and the new batch of songs, if anything, are stronger than ever.
The album’s first track, Disappear picks up like they never left, with a steady, fast punk beat, diversely textured guitars and eerie sound effects. Midway through there’s a voiceover: “Killing us all, imperialists destroying the world.” These guys don’t waste words.
The second track, Falling Behind is a gorgeously bittersweet, upbeat, organ-driven, Graham Parker-ish anthem, a cautionary tale about creeping complacency. The band work their way out of squirrelly rhythms to a straight-up anthemic drive in Buy Another Gun: the outro mantra, over a terse, icy guitar solo, is “Messed up!”
They channel late 70s Gang of Four and then the Beatles from ten years earlier over LeNoble’s gritty bass pulse in Trouble. Then they burn their way through the brooding minor-key anthem Elijah, sparks flying from their pedalboards, with a tantalizingly evil guitar duel on the way out. “People are gonna flock to you, oh they’re gonna love ya,” Forrest intones sarcastically.
Teenage Wasteland – about time somebody reclaimed that song title, huh? – is a pounding, sobering look back at wretched punk excess. Imagine the Ramones with a sax.
The band open Sixteen Angels with shards of psychedelic guitar over a clave beat, then punch in as the sax wafts broodingly overhead. “Shame on you, not shame on me,” Forrest’s homeless narrator rails. It’s the longest and most ferocious song on the album.
They follow that with the funky, anthemic, backbeat-driven LA Divorce: “Things used to matter, but nothing matters now,” Forrest rasps. Time After Time is a catchy, vampy, optimistic soul song with an electric mandolin. They close the record with The Faraway, a fond, bucolic, mostly acoustic tableau.