THE MONKS Black Monk Time (Light In The Attic)
Famous for their tonsures, perhaps less so for being covered by The Fall a couple of times, The Monks were five Germany-based ex-GIs whose music, with its seething nihilism, brutality and garage fuzz, seemed like a dry run for punk. "Black Monk Time", recorded in 1966, was the only album released by the band in its original incarnation.
"Monk Time" is an astonishingly arresting opener even today, conclusively less hinged than anything even the likes of the13th Floor Elevators were pushing at the time. Not that there's anything remotely lysergic about it: guitarist Monk Gary Burger rants about the army, Vietnam, James Bond, Pussy Galore and the bomb against tribal drums and the percussive, slashing thrust of an electric banjo. "Boys Are Boys And Girls Are Choice" and "That's My Girl" are practically dripping with lechery and an archaic attitude to interpersonal relationships, the music here as elsewhere displaying the kind of empirical primitivism The Velvet Underground would later embrace. "Blast Off!" sounds like the work of a deranged mechanical orchestra, its distorted opening foreshadowing the work of bands such as Dead Kennedys. With due deference to Frank Zappa's infinitely greater musical sophistication, "Black Monk Time" also suggest The Mothers Of Invention's contemporaneous debut "Freak Out!", which has a similarly hard-edged, singeing sound. A strange combination of reductive and inventive, The Monks' music is innovative but not quite charming, like bubblegum pop laced with a rusty nail attack.
Some post-album single sides appended as bonus tracks play like misguided attempts to squeeze the band's anarchy into a poppier mould, for example the nursery rhyme-turned-nasty "Cuckoo" or "Love Can Tame The Wild", which could almost be Herman's Hermits. Nevertheless, the band's true nature wins out on "He Went Down To The Sea", which is almost like the kind of brutalised nascent psychedelia The Who were exploring at the time, and "Pretty Suzanne"'s cavernous, fuzz-drenched thumpery.
Whatever the merits or otherwise of the music, Light In The Attic have done exemplary work on its reissue. The vinyl version is pressed on two 180 gram discs despite being little more than 45 minutes long, comes with six extra tracks, a poster and extensive liner notes (which took me longer to read than to listen to the album) and what packaging fetishists will immediately recognise as an "old school tip-on jacket", whatever that may be. The sound quality isn't quite fantastic, seeming a little more than authentically distorted in places, but I suspect sonic excellence isn't a high priority when Monk Time hits.