Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review: Monks of Mellownah – Ghost Stories EP

Monks of Mellownah's new EP, Ghost Stories, is the first part in a three part trilogy which will form the foundation of their first full-length record, Turn the People. It's a novel way to release an album, but it leaves one feeling unsatisfied at the end of the three songs since they weren't written to stand by themselves. Regardless, as a preview EP, it at least shows some strong potential for growth.

Ghost Stories gets off the ground with some nice John Frusciante influenced lead work from guitarist Joe de la Hoyde, but then moves into a fairly bland verse/chorus combo that suffers from the sort of generic catchiness that plagued the last few Red Hot Chili Peppers. To be sure, de la Hoyde provides some nice riffs, but they're too languid to satisfy even when the drums pick up the pace in the chorus.
Where the song shines is at the end, when de la Hoyde lets loose and and the band starts to jam out a wah-wah lead riff and a solo that carries them into the outro, but this burst of energy at the end is wasted because it's merely an outro, and not one worth listening to the rest of the song to get to.

A lot of this has to do with production. The songs are compressed far too much and have few dynamics. This is modern rock production 101 and it just sucks the life out of everything the Monks bring to the table. Where the riffs are supposed to be getting harder in the song, and you can even imagine the band really showing off and rocking out during these parts, they sound no louder or harder edged than the soft intro. They don't grab you because they have no dynamic range.

Photo by Billy Pasco
I do enjoy the Arctic Monkeys influenced riff that carries the second track, “Vanity,” but I must admit to being somewhat turned off by some of singer Vikram Kaushik's Anthony Kiedis-isms. In case you haven't noticed, this is a very Red Hot Chili Peppers influenced band, and Kaushik's enunciation evokes Kiedis at every turn throughout “Vanity” in particular. It's fine, but I've personally never dug Kiedis' voice. Your mileage may vary on that.
Still, “Vanity” is a good rock song, but the greatest moment of the EP comes toward the end of the last track, “Sailing Stones.” Whereas the song itself is mostly built on a fairly generic '90s rock template straight off the good old alternative radio, de la Hoyde comes out of nowhere toward the end of the song with a brilliant seemingly Middle Eastern inspired solo that reminds one of something Marty Friedman might have played in Megadeth's glory days. There's strings backing him up and it's completely ridiculously grandiose, but it works so well that it makes the whole song.

What that tells me is that there's some serious talent going into this thing, but these guys are also of a mind to reach an audience. They're all very capable, and they all showcase tremendous potential, but they wear their influences on their sleeves in trying to build the perfect beast. Ultimately, despite the good moments, the short Ghost Stories leaves me cold because I want more than this out of Monks of Mellownah. I know they can give it to me, but I'm not hearing it. Yet. Again, this EP is part of a three part cycle, so perhaps the rest of the Turn the People suite will really turn me. But for now, I need more proof, because I'm unconvinced by part one.