Monks of Mellonwah: Stars Are Out (2010)

Bio (excerpted from reverbnation.com/monksofmellonwah):
Winner of the award for Best Indie Rock Band at the Artists In Music Awards in Los Angeles and nominated for Best International Act at the LA Music Awards, the Monks of Mellonwah are entering some very exciting times.  A four-piece alternative rock and indie band based in Sydney, the Monks draw on the depth and variety of influences driving each member to create a fresh and unique sound, blending elements of classic blues & rock in Hendrix, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Chili Peppers with more recent sounds including Muse. Their first E.P., Stars Are Out, is testament to such a unique blend, and has been highly praised since its release in 2010.

Musicians:
Will Maher (Vocals), Joe de la Hoyde (Guitar), John de la Hoyde (Bass), Josh Baissari (Drums and Backing Vocals)

For some odd reason, when I put Monks of Mellonwah’s STARS ARE OUT on my iPod, it switched up the track order.  Not sure why, but for whatever reason when I was previewing the EP for this review, my iPod decided that tracks 1 & 2 (“Fire in the Hole” & “Swamp Groove”) were now tracks 4 & 5.  So when I listened to SAO, my listening experience started with the title track, and I have to say, I was a bit unimpressed.

Monks of Mellonwah, all tangled up in black

“Stars are Out” is not a bad song, in fact, I’m sure that it could be a radio friendly unit shifter on alternative rock radio, and if it had a video on MTV (do they still play videos on MTV?) then Monks of Mellonwah would have a ton of tweenie groupies.  This track is good, as far as regular old radio stuff goes.  Light rock, reminiscent of mid to late-90’s rock in the vein of Collective Soul or Soul Asylum, but with less “bite.”  I’m sure this song would do very well on the radio; this would explain why it didn’t speak to my tastes: I don’t like most of what I hear on the radio!  So my intro to SAO was a little… well… underwhelming.

This feeling immediately took a sharp left turn as (what my iPod decided would be) track 2, “Stampede,” kicked in.  A big, ballsy riff with some distinct fuzz to it jumps in right away, and my interest piqued.  Alternating from the big-rock riff and some smooth, near-funk jam, “Stampede” really drew me in.  Up next for me was “The Calling,” which goes back a bit more to the late-90’s feel, but with more oomph than what “Stars are Out” brought.  The track builds from a laid-back, spaced out intro to a big, pounding chorus, and back again.

“The Calling” was the first track where the drums really caught my attention.  Monks of Mellonwah are obviously talented musicians; Maher has a pleasant voice and good range.  He never goes too “rough,” at most there are a few near-screams, but the majority of his delivery is smooth and easy on the ears.  The brothers de la Hoyde both hold their own, but the guitar really stands out.  The bass does its job of supporting the rhythm, but the guitar shines, and even brings up some 80’s style tapped-solos, which has been conspicuously absent in most rock for quite some time.  While it was on “The Calling” that I first really noticed the drumming, “Fire in the Hole” made me stand up and pay attention.

Did we mention we live in 1972?

“Fire in the Hole” has got to be my favorite track on SAO.  It kicks off with a funky drum groove, and the guitar slides in, sexy and seductive.  This track really makes me think of 70’s southern rock, but with a funky backbone; what I would imagine might happen if Lynyrd Skynyrd had collaborated on a track with Funkadelic.  This track was followed by my close 2nd place track on the EP, “Swamp Groove.”  While “Fire in the Hole” has a very mid-70’s feel, “Swamp Groove” takes it back a bit earlier to the late 60’s and kicks in with a riff that could easily have appeared on a Hendrix album.  This late 60’s groove builds to a much more modern chorus, and then goes back into a very Hendrix-esque solo.  “Swamp Groove” is just a really nice musical journey, and I enjoyed the ride.

The EP finishes with a bonus track, “The Neverending Spirit,” which is reminiscent of the title track.  This track is a bit more radio-friendly than my personal taste, but it is slightly more aggressive than “Stars Are Out.”  It begins with a pretty little piano line, and builds into something that would (again) do well on the radio or wherever they play videos these days.  Eventually the track builds into a much greater crescendo than “Stars Are Out,” but it still didn’t do near as much for me as the rest of the album.

Also included in the materials sent to me was the first single off their upcoming release, KYOTO.  The track, “Neurogenesis,” is a bit more laid back than some of the heavier stuff on SAO, a bit easier on the ears, but yet it connected with me better than “Stars Are Out” or “The Neverending Spirit” did.  The track begins with a light, harmonic-driven guitar riff, but builds to a much heavier chorus and break than either of the other lighter tracks had done, and when it gets to the solo, Joe de la Hoyde’s guitar prowess shines.  This track certainly makes me look forward to hearing the rest of the album.

Josh Baissari, John de la Hoyde, Joe de la Hoyde, Will Maher

Overall, I think SAO has a lot going for it.  Big rock riffs, spanning decades of influence, with the ability to play both in the radio-friendly arena and with the heavier hitters as well.  There is a lot of talent in Monks of Mellonwah, and I expect that they will do well.  Likely their best bet to get “out there” would be to rely on the strength of one of their radio friendly unit shifter tracks, make a video that speaks to the little girls and shows off their mass appeal, then once the attention of the music world is focus on them, blow everyone away with a funky jam like “Fire in the Hole.”  At least, that’s what I’d hope they do… can’t wait to hear the rest of the new album.

Overall 7 / 10

SAO for sale: http://itunes.apple.com/au/album/stars-are-out/id456490850

SAO site: http://www.monksofmellonwah.com

Monks of Mellonwah: Stars Are Out EP

The “Swamp Groove” video:

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