Monotonix didn’t have a choice — the Israeli punk rock trio from Tel Aviv simply had to come to the States.
But it wasn’t ambition for stardom, exactly. While garnering a cult following in Tel Aviv beginning in 2005, the band would skip the stage and play in the middle of a crowd, causing such raucous live shows that they were banned from most of the venues in the city.
Monotonix, or drummer Haggai Fershtman, guitarist Yonatan Gat and singer Ami Shalev, headed for the states in 2006, and the band’s been an underground punk sensation ever since, known more for electric, riotous and ridiculous live shows than actual songs or albums.
The band’s second full-length album, “Not Yet,” is a start to giving Monotonix some credit for its music as well as its mayhem.
But just a start.
The album, full of fast, thrashing guitars, spasmodic percussion and Shalev’s wild howling, simply doesn’t add up to much. Considering the spectacle of Monotonix’s live show, it’s a shame that the same excitement and unpredictability doesn’t translate. Instead, we get 10 songs in just over 30 minutes that sound basically indistinguishable, with nary a catchy melody between them.
“Not Yet” was produced by the legendary Steve Albini, and his trademarks are obvious: raw-sounding guitars, stripped down production. “Before I Pass Away” has the same fast, drunken swagger of The Stooges; “Try Try Try” thrives on a darker, harsher riff that would be at home on a Black Sabbath record. The most obvious comparison, though, is certainly Black Flag. These short, terse songs aren’t given much breathing room. Instead, the band maintains controlled chaos throughout; each song sounds like it’s about to explode.
Though those comparisons are sure lofty, Monotonix can’t capture the magic of their influences — what made those bands beloved by rock nerds and casual listeners alike — on record. The songs just aren’t as memorable. The band needs to work harder crafting unique, engaging songs before letting their patented punk fury take over. With both, Monotonix could create some downright great rock music.
And yet, this is punk rock, not pop music, after all, and the music is certainly loud and chaotic. Invite some friends over, share and crank this till the walls shake, and you will undoubtedly have a good time. But such a listening environment — just like that of a Monotonix show — is more about mood, not music. But play “Not Yet” while driving to work by yourself, and you might end up going back to bed.
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)