This article originally appeared in MiG on September 9, 2010.
Let’s state this clearly: you’ll want to like The Monroe Transfer. And you will.
The e-feeds illustrate a hard-working bunch who hate camping and love music. Founding member Nick Gill is an accomplished writer and sound engineer/producer. He listens to Arvo Pärt and plays the musical saw. The band shares cellist Nicole Robson with The Irrepressibles, and violist Neil Walsh with Smoke Fairies.
They’re not broke, only breaking. They’re talented. They have exquisite taste. They use Facebook as a platform to bemoan their less-than-brisk record sales. Their tracks routinely exceed six minutes, and some exceed 10. They trade in instrumentals, or spoken word. Big-voiced divas? Conspicuous — in the absence. They’re experimental, and not in an off-putting way, either. Nick Gill apparently shares a middle name with Amanda Palmer.
They simply look too good on paper to record anything of listenable value.
Yet they pull it off in spite of themselves. Their current LP Trials (released May 3, 2010) is every bit as tempestuous as How Strange, Innocence, and every bit as lovely as This Is Our Punk-Rock. Is this to say that the music fits tidily into the detestable musical sub-division “post-rock?” No.
Well, yes. OK, it depends.
Violin, viola, guitar, “electronics,” double bass, piano, drums, glockenspiel, cello, all stitched together into an expertly-woven quilt is certainly “post-” something, and with all of the distortion, thunder, slow crescendo and melodramatic string work, rock certainly qualifies. The album highlight “Frozen field, burning field” is inspiring, majestic, and hypnotic: full of cello angst and guitar noise (they’re all metal heads, whether they fess up to it or not). An LP is only as good as its final notes, and this near-half hour titan should have closed the album, collapsing as it does into a delicious madness, the soundtrack to a film that absolutely must be made.
The curiously-named adagio “Goodbye, faithful kingdom!” opens the album, a moving piece of stillness that lists beautifully. “Sea Organ” is a short and creepy intro to “Frozen field, burning field,” the latter of which features the spoken word (no need to hold your nose; remember that Gill is a writer):
They’ve been on the train for a long time now
The farmers are burning the chaff out in the fields
There’s smoke in the air
and the sun’s so low on the horizon, it looks like it’s setting fire to the earth.
The track unfolds in chapters, too.
The cut “6 alarms” is named literally, and features an imbalanced guitar, unsettling emergency-broadcast samples and heartbreaking string work.
Complaints? A few scattered ones. “These are the bright stars (& this is how to find them)” is not the epic implied in its length. The tremolo picking motif is a bit manic and spoils the first act with seasickness (the track recovers by the second quarter post, making room for some tasty angular dissonance). “Waltz,” while delicately composed, executed with restraint, seems misplaced: we alluded to this just above.
And a U.S. release would be nice.
The album’s faults are few and specific. The album’s power, beauty, cohesion, and ability to surprise? Innumerable. Buy it here, available in “a limited edition CD in a fabric case, with hand screenprinted and letterpressed artwork.”