As he once told the Memphis Flyer, "I started getting into John Cage when I got to Berklee [College of Music]. And other avant garde stuff like Iannis Xenakis, Easley Blackwood, Jr., Julián Carillo. Morton Feldman. Milton Babbit. Stockhausen. All that stuff, that I don't understand, but I love it.”
Certainly that openness to the avant garde has been clear in his solo albums, all available on Bandcamp. Now, however, MonoNeon has dialed back the weird just a hair, creating what may be his most focused and flowing work yet. Just dropping this week, Toxic Wasteland 2 The Hills is a perfect music for either partying or contemplating your heartache to. The choice is yours.
The album begins with what seems to be a general anthropological observation. "The humans are twitching/Looking for a fixing/Lost looking for their soul." But as the song progresses, it becomes clear that the theme of the album is more personal. These are the ruminations of someone trying to get past a failed relationship.
In this context, "the hills" are a place of solace, of regrouping and examining one's needs and habits, as spelled out in the title track:
The hills is where we go
Find who we are again
Nothing to lose
No distractions to ease the suffering
Surviving with our conversations with God
We were both in a toxic wasteland
Where do we go from here
To the hills
The sound of the album is a seamless mesh of influences ranging from George Clinton to Prince (who MonoNeon played with on several occassions). Classic 80s funk sounds abound, all played with aplomb by MonoNeon himself, right down to those thick, punchy synth blasts. The bass parts are, of course, precisely executed and often head-spinning. But some of the more outlandish shows of virtuosity from previous albums are now reined in, with the auteur playing more to the service of the songs.
While you won't hear much Stockhausen here, there is an openness to otherworldly textures and harmonies that keeps the music stimulating, to say the least. The end result echoes the edgy work of that other great (unsung) Memphis bassist, Busta Jones, who added some uncanny, slightly off-kilter yet funky bottom end to recordings by Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and others, starting in the 1980s. That era's heyday of subtle weirdness mixed with danceable accessibility — both stimulating and reassuring — is flowering again with this album.
Along the way, MonoNeon works with some hot collaborators, notably She'Chinah, Lawrencia (aka FatSnacka), drummer Sam Porter (aka RetroPMas) and producer IMAKEMADBEATS adding beats, and producer Sean Wright.
It's the perfect note to kick off the new Roaring '20s: shake off the angst and heartache with some deep groove time, but keep your head curious while you do it.