Ahh, Southern California sure knows how to mold and shape guys and gals into laid back, jammy musicians. There’s this breezy, hazy vibe that comes from a city like San Diego that you can’t get anywhere else in the country. In-particular, psych rock has had somewhat of a resurgence in that area, with heavy hitters like Earthless, Astra, and the musical world of Brian Ellis dominating. Another band making some serious noise is Monarch. This 5-piece takes their cues from a more laid back place. Bluesy, jazzy guitar, soulful vocals, and a killer swing in the rhythms, Monarch sound like a beefed up Allman Brothers Band with hints of Band of Gypsies and Santana thrown in for good measure. Their three-guitar attack definitely brings to mind some of the highlights of At Fillmore East, while also cooking up something completely unique. On their debut LP Two Isles, these California native sons have something for everyone; jazzy improvisation stacked onto jangly AOR-style jams with a healthy dose of that southern California, sun-kissed psych freak out. In other words, Two Isles covers all the bases and then some.
Tiptoeing through the acid-burnt, tie-dyed world of psych rock can be a tricky game. It can be hard to find a balance where you’re not alienating one group of fans or another. Head too far in one direction and some folks will be turned off by the druggy vibe, while if you head too far into the mainstream you’ll be seen as milquetoast(ask Howlin’ Rain about that.) Fortunately for our ears Monarch find a perfect balance of 70s radio jams and the more deep cut album tracks most DJs would happily roll one up and light up to.
“Two Isles” tears this album open with some swinging, jazzy drums courtesy of stick man Andrew Ware and some seriously killer guitar harmonies before coming down like a hard rain with some great soulful vocals by lead singer and guitarist Dominic Denholm. The production, courtesy of southern California music guru Brian Ellis, gives Monarch’s sound an open-aired, loose vibe that works to add some serious open sky bigness to the already killer tracks. “Hundreds, Thousands, Millions” is vast and dizzying with some dreamy phaser-effected guitar that brings to mind earlier Tame Impala, but much clearer and wider in scope than Kevin Parker’s early, muffled lo fi psych. “Assent” rolls along some serious guitar jangle that once again raises the spirit of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts. Seriously, this isn’t chicken scratch guitar. Monarch’s guitar power trio know how to abuse a six-string just right. “Dancers Of The Sun” swings and sways in all the right directions, while “Sedna’s Fervor” is tasteful jazz rock with just a hint of patchouli to heighten your senses. Probably the heaviest track here, with some prog-rock leanings. Album closer “Shady Maiden” clocks in close to 10 minutes and is all tight grooves, wandering jams, and some serious spacey vibes. You can almost hear the waves breaking on the shore on this one. Monarch end this record in serious So Cal style.
Two Isles is one of those rare records that will appeal to both young guys and gals just entering the psych world, as well as cats that were drinking draft beers watching a young Duane Allman tear it up on his SG in a little club somewhere in Florida back in 1969. Young or old, Monarch are speaking to you. Two Isles is that album you and your dad can finally agree on.
7.8 out of 10