“I don’t have to worry about alligators in Seattle and I don’t have to worry about casual water in Florida,” Ken Griffey, Jr. once stated when asked about playing golf in the different climates. It’s a hard shake for the Emerald City; if it’s not rain, they’re almost always tagged with comments about the Space Needle, Nirvana, or coffee. There’s so much more to the area, though. Outside of its lush, green parks or pioneering food culture, the music scene has also evolved drastically since the ’90s. In addition to its lush if not nagging folk scene, there has even been an engaging hip-hop community, which includes the inimitable Shabazz Palaces. With that in mind, it’s a little troubling to hear Absolute Monarchs.
According to their biography on Facebook, “Absolute Monarchs are a band that refuses to fit comfortably in any existing genre or scene in Seattle.” That’s not really true. Based on the ten tracks that make up their debut, 1, Absolute Monarchs brandish the same sort of crunchy distortion-driven rock that Sonic Youth, Big Black, or, yes, even early Nirvana wielded. Opening track “Attack” wrenches half a dozen blues riffs, and scrunches them up behind bassist Joel Schneider’s vocals, which tend to alternate between a nasally Steve Albini and a more volatile Kim Gordon. Here’s what’s even more unsettling: It’s pretty fucking good.
But, ugh, the Pacific Northwest doesn’t really need a resurgence of this type of sound. Too many critics cast out too many prophesies about the future wasteland of recycled music, and Absolute Monarchs almost prove their case. Find a Delorean, a phone booth, or a hot tub, warp back to the late ’80s, and you’ll hear the rollicking bass lines of “Bad Taste”, the delusional outro to “Fell in Line”, and the tornado-like fury of “Thinking Thieves” at half a dozen house parties outside Seattle.
The band’s surprisingly transparent about their style, too. They champion their “angst” and “muddy reverb” and consider them “requirements in the world of Northwest music,” which adds this guilty weight to the LP. Though, it’s hard to feel too shameful when there are tracks like “It’s Bad”, which shifts and evolves rather organically, and Scheider sounds bold rather than just shrill. It’s a solid promise that there’s more here than simply a garage sale of their older cousin’s records. But, hey, whatever, it’ll always rain in Seattle, the tourists love that Space Needle, Starbucks isn’t going anywhere, and there’s even a museum for Nirvana now. Coincidentally, you can experience all four at once just outside the downtown area. So, who’s really guilty?
Essential Tracks: “It’s Bad”, “Attack”