Monkey Plot: Here I Sit, Knowing All of This
Moon Relay: Full Stop Etc.
These mid-2016 vinyl releases by Monkey Plot and Moon Relay show that there's as much room for alt-rock in Hubro's multi-roomed mansion as there is for jazz, folk, and whatever else you might imagine. While there are similarities between the two instrumental collections, Monkey Plot's Here I Sit, Knowing All of This is the slightly more accessible set of the two, whereas Moon Relay's Full Stop Etc. evidences a more experimental sensibility.
The third album from Monkey Plot guitarist Christian Skår Winther, bassist Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard, and drummer Jan Martin Gismervik signifies a return to electric form following a largely acoustic period. Here I Sit, Knowing All of This is no abrasive, high-decibel throwdown, however, but rather an intimate set that sounds a bit like sketches Television might have developed in the studio before adding Tom Verlaine's vocals. There are moments on this explorative album when Winther's multi-tracked acoustic and electric playing makes the Norwegian trio sound more like a quartet than trio, too.
With six years of playing under their collective belts, the band is a tight unit that locks into a groove with ease, even if it's sometimes an intricate one. Eschewing power trio conventions, the members downplay soloing, preferring instead to function as a multi-limbed entity whose participants are equally integral to the collective sound (yes, the guitar does generally assume the lead melodic role, but it's more by default than anything else). If one had to start somewhere, “Dry Ground” would be as good a place as any, given how effectively the bass-and-drum pulse underpins the range of tremolo and scabrous snarl Winther coaxes from his guitar, though “Kalla Handen,” with Swedish poet Pär Thörn intoning one of his own texts alongside the band, can't help but be ear-catching for including a voice element.
A rather different animal is Moon Relay, an experimental art-punk quartet with a sometimes atonal edge. Following a 2013 twelve-inch disc on Hubro and a 2014 album debut on Fysisk Format, Full Stop Etc. represents the next stage in the evolution of a band born in 2006 when its members convened around a drum machine. On the album's seven unpronounceable tracks, current members Daniel Meyer Grønvold (guitar, bass, drums, vocals, cassettes, electronics, tenor sax), Håvard Volden (guitar, bass, vocals, tape loops, synth, percussion), Ola Høyer (bass), and Martin Smådal Larsen (drums, percussion) draw from a diverse genre pool, among them krautrock, noise, free jazz, electroacoustic, and post-punk. Listening to Full Stop Etc., one might be reminded of Wire, Public Image Ltd., and Sonic Youth, albeit with vocals stripped out.
Moon Relay's collages are abstract but not so much that they lack coherence. To that end, rhythmic structures typically persist throughout a track and repeating guitar figures ground the material, too. In essence, Grønvold and Volden generate the weirdness, while Høyer and Larsen bring stability to the constructions. The former pair would appear to be in charge, given their producing credit, but all four are responsible for authoring the seven pieces.Powered by martial snares, slashing guitar riffs, and an ascending synth effect, “O,,,,__” inaugurates the album with something suggesting an instrumental Devo outtake that went missing from its first, Eno-produced album. By comparison, the plodding “_);” sounds like some unhealthy cross between No Wave and early Golden Palominos, while “...,,\y” uses stabbing guitars and a groaning bass pulse in the service of early art-punk experimentalism. Synths, electronics, tape loops, and even a smattering of tenor sax muscle their way into the quartet's restless blend, and it makes sense that on such a project Lasse Marhaug would not only mix the album but contribute to the controlled mayhem of two tracks, the second of which, “..../__ (;;;''___'',,,),” takes the album out on a woozy, eleven-minute wave of squealing guitars, wailing synths, galloping drums, and backwards-treated voices.