Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The New Monarchs -Blueprints

The New Monarchs
Blueprints (Soup Bowl Records, 2008)
Grade: B+

Download: The New Monarchs - "Across Your Hands"
Download: The New Monarchs - "Surprises"

Along with Nobot, Estate, and a whole host of other groups around the Twin Cities, Minneapolis-based The New Monarchs are a band that likes to accentuate their upbeat anthems with electronic textures. As evidenced by their debut album, Blueprints, The New Monarchs are more than eager to fill in the hole that’s been left for techno-minded indie kids since The Postal Service soared to such great heights earlier this decade. So the, ahem, blueprint for the Monarchs’ sound is probably familiar to most indietronic fans.

However, The New Monarchs also bring to the table a strong sense of songcraft and a knack for layering together different keyboard-based sounds. Blueprints kicks off with quartet of tracks that establish an energetic atmosphere, even when the instrumental foundations are soft electronic drums and piano. This is the case with "Windows Down", a track that has a sense of motion even when its at its most quiet (that is, when the chiming guitar-pop and spacey ambiance take front and center). While singer Sean Hogan recalls Ben Gibbard’s boyish, airy tenor at times, he can also add a welcome sense of desperation in the higher register of his voice—picture a less angry Trent Reznor, off all things. Less successful are the group’s forays into straightahead, downtempo ballad territory (“Leigh”, which does admittedly have some lush production techniques). I realize that Otis Redding said that we all should try a little tenderness, but sometimes tenderness can rob an otherwise pretty good record of its momentum.

Strangely enough, Blueprints does regain its creative swagger. Its last two tracks, "Kiss Me At The Gate" and "Hold Me Quick (I Can't Stop) are easily Blueprints most promising and creatively engaging songs. These truly show the promise that The New Monarchs have going for them. "Gate" resides at a corner of early 90s trip-hop and new millennial romantic synth-pop. It's as if Zooropa-era U2--think "Stay (Faraway, So Close)"-- and M83. The last song is an 11-minute (two-part?) epic that starts out as modern day electronic pop, but with an open-ended song structure that allows the group to explore different sound and dimensions for 6 minutes. At around the six-and-a-half minute mark, new sounds--like a synthesized harpsichord--start to emerge, with a soft pattering of electronic drum beats helping to give the track enough danceability for raves, or just home bedroom dance-offs.

While Blueprints establishes early on that The New Monarchs are capable of creating solid electronic pop music with some rough edges, it's when they go off on rave-y detours that has the listeners interest and ears are truly piqued. Blueprints is well-crafted enough of a record to hold music fans attention. But more songs like "Kiss Me At The Gate" will have listeners wondering with decided anticipation at The New Monarchs new direction on future albums. Blueprints serves as the foundation for such promise.

Buy it here.

The New Monarchs MySpace Page

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