Equal Parts Punk and Classic Rock
The Israeli punks in Monotonix are something else. They sing in English but it might as well be Hebrew. It’s nearly unintelligible. But that doesn’t really matter – their brand of garage rock is dirty, gritty and heavy on the guitars and wails. Where Were You When It Happened? is their first proper LP after their successful 2008 Drag City EP Body Language. Clocking in at half an hour with eight songs, it’s a rollicking bundle of energy full of screams, moans, drum rolls, feedback, crescendos and lulls.
Their live show reputation precedes them. Notorious for lewd, crude behavior (pouring beers on heads, climbing walls and lighting things on fire) resulting in audience members likely heading home with bruises and scratches, the question is if their antics live up to a record of substance. From the first track, a barreling two-minute introduction called “Flesh And Blood,” you get a Black Keys vibe but more like if those Ohio boys got wasted, pissed off, and took it out on their guitar and drums.
It’s not easy to assert levels of punk in hard, guitar-heavy rock, but these guys are somewhere between Royal Trux, angry Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy. They’ve done a couple tours with the Silver Jews but at their gnarliest moments, Where Were You sounds like a Black Sabbath record. Album standout “I Can’t Take It Anymore” is a more digestible rock song. Despite lead singer Ami Shalev’s muffled screams, it slows at the chorus and its churning guitar and syncopated drumbeat are damn near classic rock. You can actually decipher some lyrics on the following “My Needs,” when Shalev moans “what are my neeeeds, what are my neeeeeds.” “Something Had Dried” is the closest the trio get to straight up blues. Each verse gets its due punk treatment of thrashes and freak-outs but it keeps coming back to a rolling blues lick. “Set Me Free” is probably the most radio-friendly tune; another slower, deliberate rock song with a catchy drum beat and a minimal sense of anarchy.
This is not for the faint of rock heart. The nastiness is not far from the trio emerging from a bush of pubic hair spilling out of un-zipped jeans on the cover of the record. But late at night with some alcohol-fueled gusto, I’m sure pushing around the drummer and his bass drum as he surfs the crowd and pounds on his tom would be the sweetest thing on earth. Even if you bruise a wrist.