Monarch: Aesthetic Anesthetic [Review]

Monarch CoverEnter the wibbly-wobbly world of Monarch’s Aesthetic Anesthetic, a singular and accomplished release whose quirky sounds appear destined to become lost to the sands of time. Released in 2010, Aesthetic Anesthetic is a hidden gem no longer available for general download, meaning that those fortunate enough to have purchased a copy will perhaps be the only ones able to look back on this spritely release that stands out on so many levels, not least for its percussion, sound palette and use of melodies, as well as its overall composition.

In terms of percussion, the release is notable for two things: firstly, the prolific use of the crash symbol, perhaps best exemplified in Tea, the album’s high point in which a squally sea of crashes creates an uneasy tension that eventually gives way to the track’s euphoric dénouement; secondly, there is also the development of a sort of topsy-turvy percussion, also present in Tea, but which arguably reaches its peak in Network Cycle How, whose beat stumbles and trips over itself over and over again as it leads the listener gaily to the track’s conclusion. Indeed, this focus on avoiding orthodox percussive patterns, such as the erratic stops and starts of Quest To The Off Start End is a recurring theme.

This quest for alterity also appears carried over into the release’s sound pallet: the ethereal sound of a musical saw in Quest To The Off Start End, the skewed melodies of Siamese, the contrast between robotic, electro-type instrumentation (Melo Velecet, Mudule and Tricaclaic) and sweeping, evocative  melodies (Tea once again, with its striking counterpoint), and the quintessential use of acid, most notably in Mudule, rising up from the space left as the track breaks down, leaving the listener with a poignant moment for reflection before being returned to the groove.

Compositionally, on an individual level, the tracks exhibit an ear for creating dynamic and deeply textured compositions, a skill that is also echoed on a macro level by the cohesive and varied development across the eight tracks: the electro-influenced Metro Velecet provides an excellent opening, presenting the aesthetic of the release to the listener with its crashes and erratic percussion, hinting at the melodic palette to come later on. As an opening track, it establishes a space that draws the listener into the release, concluding with a crescendo whose abrupt termination leaves a small pause for reflection before 45, which fleshes out the album’s aesthetic, setting up for the driving force of Siamese, which in turn leads to the wibbly-wobbly adventure of Quest To The Off Start End. The release’s apogee, Tea, follows close at heel, a marvellous polyvocal point of inflection, which ends its euphoria with a small pause for reflection. From there, the listener is returned to the groove by the driving force of Mudule, leading them on to the release’s conclusion as the tension that has been building up in the percussion finally collapses and disintegrates towards the end of Network Cycle How, leaving just the postlude of Tricaclaic to release them from Monarch’s world.

The release’s title is ambiguous: far from being an anaesthetic, this is accomplished and simulating music, an exercise in the creation of a singular aesthetic that is alien and defamiliarising, one strongly marked by its inventive uses and combinations of unusual sounds, and full of promise yet to be fulfilled. Indeed contrary to the immediate connotations of the title, the release presents itself as an antidote to the mind-numbing aesthetic of copy-cat electronic music, offering those fortunate enough to obtain a copy a refreshing and rewarding listening experience.

Update 27 August 2014: Aesthetic Anesthetic has been re-released on Bandcamp.

 

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