By now, it’s evident that electronic music and rock ‘n’ roll make pretty good bedfellows. Whether it’s dark and intense in the vein of Nine Inch Nails, skittering and conceptual like late-period Radiohead, or skipping on the poppier side of life like the Postal Service, it’s a hybrid that can take many forms.
The tech-savvy tweakers in The New Monarchs have a pretty good handle on the various ways indie, pop rock, and electronica can overlap, something that makes simultaneously the band’s best asset and biggest flaw. Stay Awake, the band’s latest offering, uses its electronic, synth-driven rock to capture a lot of different moods, which can occasionally pass for versatility but overall makes for a disjointed and unfocused record.
Album opener “Pale Rider” opens with the skittering sounds of drum machines over a fragmented, low-register guitar drone before kicking into agit-rock mode a la Filter or NIN– and it totally works. The band would have been just fine staying the course, but instead, the rest of Stay Awake jumps restlessly from Cure-ish new wave (“Black Lab”) to cerebral, Pro Tools-driven tracks (“Converter”) to sweeter, more pop-savvy fare (“Walk Through Walls”)– and that’s just the first half.
When it works, it works. “Converter” boasts some considerable smarts and technical proficiency, while “A Room in a House” has an infectious, groovy dance rock feel to it. But those few bright spots can’t carry Stay Awake, which gets bogged down and sacked under too many ideas. It might get an A for effort, but the band and the record could have benefited from settling on one specific sound rather than rummaging through the grab bag.
The band deserves credit for being willing and flexible enough to dip its toe in different sonic waters, but they struggle to make anything cohesive out of its subdivided electro-rock sound. Ideas are only as good as they are executed, and Stay Awake plays as a cautionary tale of what can happen when a band is bit too hard by ambition.
Essential Tracks: “Pale Rider”