1966: The Monks - Early Monks 1964-65 / Black Monk Time

"Stop it, stop it, it’s too loud for my ears... Stop it I don’t like it," lead Monk Gary Burger sings over “Monk Time,” the opening cut off The Monks' revolutionary record, 1966’s Black Monk Time. The band -- Larry, Dave Eddie, Roger, and Gary -- couldn’t have come equipped with a stranger back story: five American G.I.s stationed in Germany during the war, they formed a beat group, covering Chuck Berry and playing to scattered crowds. After being discharged, they stayed in Germany and, under the watchful eye of Walther Niemann and Karl-H.-Remy, two German existentialist impresarios, fashioned themselves into an off kilter, manic rock unit, morphing from their innocuous beginnings as a mild-mannered Five Torquays into the radical Monks: hair shaved into tonsures, black robes, noose around neck, and feedback blaring.

The music is scuzzy, violent, and explosive, the group reportedly aiming for “anti-Beatles” status, yet it’s difficult to imagine John Lennon not being green with jealousy at what The Monks accomplished with their incredibly brief career. And while the hippies back home sang honey drop “protest” music, The Monks employed a decidedly more radical approach to anti-war art: With bursts of bleating organ, fuzz bass, and guitars that traded chords for scratchy bits of white noise, The Monks' sound couldn’t have been farther removed from all but the most marginalized American acts. The Monks' secret weapon was Dave Day’s modified banjo, souped up with an electric pickup that defined the band’s sound, its percussive, tinny effect perfectly accentuating the prickly aesthetic. The music is so decidedly “future” it’s almost baffling. They quietly laid down the foundation for Krautrock’s grinding minimalism and punk’s aggressive sonics, while retaining an awkwardly soulful sensibility, mirroring the energy of Detroit garage rock with purely rhythmic shuffle.

"Hey well I hate you with a passion baby/ Oh you know my hate is everlasting baby," Gary sang on the aptly titled “I Hate You,” and the kids with flowers in the hair were appalled. Released by Polydor in 1966, the feedback assaults purportedly impressed Jimi Hendrix, but general audiences just couldn’t handle the Dadaist chants, the nightmare treble-stabs, the propulsive driving drums, and subsequently ignored the record. Folks in Germany were inspired to more than indifference: one audience member rushed the stage and tried choking to death Monk Gary for “blasphemous” acts.

It’s easy to see why the music caused such a stir. “Complication” works as a perfect example of the band’s political and aural manifesto, finger-pointing "People die, people kill for you" at governmental and religious institutions. Song like “Oh How to Do Now” feature fairly straightforward lyrics ("Well, I wanna make you mine"), but twist the goofy romantic nonsense of normal pop music into something more menacing, coming across wild-eyed and insane. Like all things demented, The Monks truly had a firm grasp on their sense of otherworldly humor. “Drunken Maria” is a bouncy, hilarious take, less than two minutes of the band call and responding "Sleepy Maria, don’t sleep/ Drunken Maria, don’t drink" over a ramshackle bass line. “Blast Off!” finds the band at its spaciest, a surfy instrumental that prompts the question, “What would Joe Meek have done with a band this far out?”

“Love Came Tumblin’ Down” and “That’s My Girl” are tuneful and restrained, both tracks more focused on melody than their peers. The former finds Gary singing of romantic bliss, while the latter details a case of sexual frustration, ending the record with shrieks of "That’s my girl! You can’t have my girl!" These two songs most clearly demonstrate the alchemy of their sound; beneath the squeals and rumbles, the basic structure maintains its pop form and pop appeal. Further illustrating this point is Early Monks: 1964-1965, released with Black Monk Time by Seattle’s Light in the Attic, who have firmly established themselves as an authority on overlooked gems through reissues of Rodriguez, Karen Dalton, Noel Ellis and the Free Design. Early Monks finds the band, still labeled as the Five Torquays, exploring the dynamic they would perfect on Black Monk Time. Essentially demos, the songs serve as much more than that, often exposing the song structure that isn’t immediately apparent with the addition of the more extreme elements that would later define the band. The songs on Early Monks are uniquely gorgeous, and the organ work of Larry Clark is at the forefront, lending the songs a stately, entirely church service ready vibe.

Brian Eno famously stated that though The Velvet Underground never sold a lot of records, everyone who listened to them wanted to start a band. Nothing as hyperbolic can be said about The Monks, but their influence tends to create truly singular bands: The Beastie Boys, The Fall, The Gossip, Jon Spencer, Faust, The Silver Apples. While none of these acts directly aspire to recreate the sounds found on Black Monk Time, all share a kinship with the band, managing to subvert traditional forms and mate them with abrasive ones, to use humor and absurdist methods to point at a greater sonic truth. The Monks didn’t last much longer than this one album, but their gospel has indeed outlived them, and their radical sound, even contextualized within the immense framework of modern experimental music, still sounds baffling, exhilarating, and slightly terrifying. "It’s black Monk time," indeed.

Black Monk Time:

1. Monk Time
2. Shut Up
3. Boys Are Boys And Girls Are Choice
4. Higgle-Dy - Piggle-Dy
5. I Hate You
6. Oh, How To Do Now
7. Complication
8. We Do Wie Du
9. Drunken Maria
10. Love Came Tumblin Down
11. Blast Off!
12. Thats My Girl
13. I Cant Get Over You *
14. Cuckoo *
15. Love Can Tame The Wild *
16. He Went Down To The Sea *
17. Pretty Suzanne *
18. Monk Chant (Live) *

The Early Years:

1. Monk Time
2. We Do Wie Du
3. Boys Are Boys
4. Pretty Suzanne
5. Higgle-dy Piggle-dy
6. Hushie Pushie
7. Love Came Tumblin Down
8. Oh, How To Do Now
9. Space Age
10. I Hate You
11. Boys Are Boys
12. There She Walks

* bonus tracks

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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