Even on first examination of Monstervision, it’s perfectly clear how poised to totally reinvigorate punk rock Round Eye really are now. The band’s 2015-issued debut album hit those who heard it like a force of nature and won converts to the band’s banner effortlessly, but their sophomore effort is something else; Monstervision manages to retain the fury and mania of its predecessor, but also illustrates that the group isn’t just a band of lucky savants. Rather, on Monstervision, they’re organized, focused and make it plain early that they’re making the sound they are at least in part with the desire to establish what they’re doing as a unique socio-artistic statement not just as a clever novelty. Furthering that point, the band has elected to jump in at the front of the potential pack of politically-infuriated punks and angle the album as criticism of President Donald Trump.
Before a note of music escapes the album, listeners can feast their eyes on a rather porky caricature of Trump on the CD itself and then chuckle warmly as film critic Joe Bob Briggs lines up what listeners can expect to come song-by-song on the album as he both opens and introduces the proceedings (check out “I’m Joe Bob Briggs and this is the Chinese take-out edition of Monstervision so check your chopsticks ready and join me as we dine on some sweet and sour Trump, General Tso’s Clinton, a cup of steamin’ hot red white and blue tea and an inevitable and ever-ominous fortune of doom from a cookie that tastes like it’s been sitting in some all-day convenience store in Shanghai for the last thousand years. This is the year of the monkey goin’ into the year of the rooster, but let’s not dwell on that – I think we’d better bang a gong and light this candle” – doesn’t that about say it all?).
After that prelude of wry comedy, Round Eye makes sure to leave no doubt or question regarding where they’re headed as they open with the lean, mock-redneck punk strut of “Commie Blues.” Now, right off, it’s important to point out that, while the sound and approach of “Commie Blues” is about as far as it’s possible to get from the overall to get from the overall air of Round Eye’s self-titled debut, it also draws a direct connection to Round Eye as well; on one hand, the lyric sheet for “Commie Blues” is incredibly short (the whole song’s vocal part revolves around the song’s title bellowed intermittently and interrupted only once by a couple of unintelligible stanzas for one minute and forty-two seconds), but it speaks volumes to both the global political state as well as to how much the band has changed in such a short time, somehow. While incredibly succinct, the song drips of sarcasm and disdain, and the combination of those things mixed with the album’s artwork and the aggressive/obnoxious delivery of the vocals really presents a very articulate message. Simply put, “Commie Blues” doesn’t say much but speaks volumes as it sets a mood and image simultaneously.
That image proves to hold up vividly as Monstervision progresses. “Billy,” the second track and first single released from the album sees Stooges saxophonist Steve Mackay return to the group’s ranks again and contribute what would be his final performance ever committed to tape (he passed away on October 10, 2015) before segueing into “Sifter,” and then “”Troma” so smoothly that it will leave listeners in complete disbelief. In the cases of each of those tracks, full lyric sheets and dramatic, compelling vocal performances by lead singer Chachy make for hypnotizing fare, but it’s only after a couple of listens that fans realize that the compositional chops have improved so remarkably too. The way that the songs bend and flow together but always keep clearly defined individual structures is just flat-out incredible.
As the album continues, more appearances by Joe Bob Briggs occasionally disrupt the flow of the album but also include a few choice one-liners as well (see moments like “This is Joe Bob Briggs reminding you that age doesn’t always bring wisdom – sometimes age comes alone”), and songs like the drive-in intermission of “Tailspin” (which turns darker when Chachy reminds listeners that it is culture which is in a tailspin), the surfy, punky Dead Kennedys/Butthole Surfers recollection which is “Pink House,” the slower but surprisingly articulate “The Cat, The Mouse and The Dog” and the absolutely blissful and bombastic “Nest” all illustrate just how far and fantastically the band is capable of stretching themselves beyond the boundaries of Freak Punk. Just how far that reach extends is impressive, but the combination of those extra sounds with the band’s screeching and manic clatter is guaranteed to keep listeners guessing excitedly at what might be coming next and never gives up anything less than fantastic results.
“So what does it all add up to in the end,” you ask? Simply said, Monstervision is an absolutely phenomenal follow-up to what was already a great beginning yes – but it goes that ever-so-important extra inch too by implying that Round Eye isn’t done yet – while what they’ve already done is great, the band has more promise in them than just this. Now, they don’t give away what might come next in the end of Monstervision, but they certainly leave enough figurative bread crumbs to hint that whatever does come next will be something unbelievable again. That might sound like a heartless tease, but there’s no question that while Monstervision will leave fans satisfied, it will also leave them on pins and needles aching for more. [Bill Adams]
(Sudden Death Records)
Monstervision was released on CD via Sudden Death Records on May 5, 2017, and on vinyl on May 19, 2017. www.suddendeath.com/store/vinyl/round-eye-monster-vision-lp