Checking back through my archives, I was really surprised that Monarch have hardly featured in the three years since their last album, ‘Two Isles’ came out on El Paraiso Records. Surprised because it is absolutely brilliant, and one that I have played repeatedly ever since it came out.
As a result, before I start to talk about their new release, on the same label, I feel that there is some unfinished business here.
I need to urge you to check ‘Two Isles’ out.
It is a terrific summer record that is redolent with a California vibe (the band is from San Diego)… hazy guitars and a laid back beat that is never just wallpaper. In other words an album that you can really listen to and appreciate while chilling at the same time. Here’s an example…
Right, now that I have put that right let’s get back to ‘Beyond The Blue Sky’ which, as far as I know, it the band’s first release since ‘Two Isles’. In many ways the same general description applies in terms of how Monarch approach their follow up… there is still that sense of free and easiness that flows majestically through this music. However there is also a sense that the band are attacking this album more… a sense that amongst the haziness there is an urgency that perhaps was absent from the previous one.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the opening track, ‘Hanging By A Thread’ which launches the set with real dynamism. There is more complexity here too as you sometimes find it hard to keep up with what exactly is going on in the mix as the twin guitars lead the way in an manner that feels both familiar and fresh at the same time. The former probably because I’ve been gifted some Allman Brothers albums recently, and there is a lot here that is reminiscent of their sound (maybe the ‘Blue Sky’ that this album is beyond).
‘Divided Path’ is a more downbeat number… more reminiscent of their previous release, but with a more involving structure. The use of sax here is key to the warm vibe for me here, although that is far from the only contributor to what is a track which belies its initial simplicity to develop into something that is both immersive and hugely satisfying.
After that ‘Pangea’ has the feel of a song that you’ve heard many times before. It has a timeless quality to it which I don’t think comes out of any familiarity as such, but in the way that it is played… the band’s decision to record through analogue equipment is clearly coming through for me here. There is a warmth and authenticity which we often don’t miss until we are presented with such production values. I cannot wait to hear the vinyl if this is what it sounds like through the files I’m been sent. The song itself is just marvellous in how it is constantly changing tack from melancholic vocals to heavy psych guitar, and many points in-between.
The heart of the album consists of three consecutive tracks, ‘Beyond the Blue Sky’, ‘Phenomena’ and ‘Counterpart’, which form a sort of suite of songs which really do seems to exemplify how much the band seem to be able to fit into their music… a sonic fusing of styles which scream both classic and contemporary rock at the same time… quite a feat.
The title track builds up brilliantly to the point where the two guitars are trading solos and fairly driving the track along before dropping into ‘Phenomena’… a more experimental mid-section which first fragments, and then melts, into ‘Counterpart’ which, while rather familiar, also keeps you guessing. There’s so much in here that I’m sure that it’ll flower with additional listens as the structure settles more in my head… but is already superb, especially as Monarch bring the ‘suite’ home towards the end.
Closing the album is ‘Felo De Se’ which brings together more elements of early 1970s rock than you would think possible. Again, and this is the theme throughout the set, without sounding anything but contemporary and, in a strange way, groundbreaking. That mixture of dynamism and laid-back sun kissed groove is also there. Then, when half way through, the band just take off into the stratosphere you find yourself hanging on for dear life and hoping that you will witness this live some day.
With ‘Beyond The Blue Sky’ Monarch have taken their sound and shifted up a few gears, but in a way that in no way devalues their earlier release. Indeed, having listen to the two records back to back it feels like there is a real complimentary progression here. For me there is a definite move from prog to rock here… while both float on the heady eddies of psychedelia in a way that takes you away in a rather wonderful fashion.
Job done I’d say!
‘Beyond the Blue Sky’ is available now from El Paraiso Records here.
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