I have grand plans to create a podcast about music (and me, everything is now part of my plan to document Every Damn Thing in my life), and the first episode is meant to be about the Monkey Power Trio. They're a very special band to me, and they should be more widely known. In 1995, they released their first 45, The First Hour. It was a six song document of "whatever happened that day", and it contained a very dangerous hidden track (metaphorically speaking): a VOW.
The vow was to stay a band forever, but only one day a year. MPT will record and release a record of some kind each year - until they're all dead. They've been at it now for 23 years, and if they're a few years behind in releasing the actual documents, I'm not judging - I can't even start a podcast. I'm keeping lots of notes, and hope to eventually do it. But I bite off way more than I can chew, most of the time.
Not these guys. They bit off only a little too much - they can still chew. This year's release contains two sessions, from 2014 and 2015, on a ten-inch record called The Ballad of Christian Woodcock. And as usual with an MPT record, it contains some real nonsense, some moments of musical inspiration, and some genuinely hilarious shit. The band do not practice or write in between sessions (it's an achievable vow, unlike Sufjan's unfulfilled promise to make records about every State), and of course you can tell. They're not geniuses. They're just school friends who found a compelling artistic project that would keep them in touch, which I find amazing and wonderful. I couldn't find 5 people from school to hang with in an emergency, nor could I pull together any collaborators on any long-term projects. This project is a thing of beauty, and the fact that they're funny guys puts a bell on it.
I've been listening since 2000, and am used to the way things break down on a typical MPT record, but I don't know who does what. I shall have to imagine. Which member writes the ragers? Mark? Dave? Four? They're usually my favourite songs - someone in this band can really yell. He's previously yelled things about being a pussy ("I Run From Fights"), or drinking gin ("Gallon of Gin"), or Fatty Arbuckle's rim job skills (look it up). This time he's yelling "I'm underwater! And I want to stay! My lungs are full and I like it that way!" which I find inspired and inspiring. ("Bottom of the Lake"). This member is all Ego (the Freudian kind), and probably the engine, but who knows. I do not. He has a different hairstyle every year, I imagine.
Somebody in the band writes songs like movies - previously, about cop-buddies Fuzzy and Jenkins, for example - and this time they hand in "Gordon Muir, Time Traveller." I picture this Monkey Power Member as bespectacled, besweatered, bemused (stop it). He may have written "The Land of MPT" (video below). This may be the same person who plays the recorder, which is always in the mix somewhere. He may keep it in a knitted tube.
There's also a sax player, intermittently. This member loves Half Japanese, I think, and could be the mind behind the dry-wit numbers (historically, "Butt Science", or "When I Save Time, I Save Money"). This time they bring "Hello Cleveland". This member is sentimental and answers fan mail, I bet.
I assume the guy named Deadhand Dan plays the guitar, just cuz of his name. He gets an autobiographical song in this batch, and guess what? When he's not in MPT, he spends 364 days a year in charge of the Mutually Assured Destruction nuclear situation. This is what a close reading of lyrics and liner notes can get you. Get digging! ("Deadhand Button")
I wonder about the feelings of whoever does the drumming on these songs; of all of the instruments, really, the drummer is the one who must practice, and I don't think they really do. But that's part of the thing - floundering beats happen often on MPT jams. Imagine my (and his?) surprise that THIS time, the band seems to have employed a drum machine (or app on a phone, or something). Was it contentious? Or was it his idea? In any case, it makes for a regular beat. With the madness of this band, that is helpful.
To be clear, I'm not blaming the drummer for all of the rhythmic inconsistencies. (I'm not "blaming" anyone, just describing.) On some tracks, it's obvious that the players can't all hear each other (Gordon Muir!); at other times, a song could clearly be nailed if they had, say, three days to make the record instead of one. This is a feature, inherent to the vow. I'm always, always impressed by how many good ideas these guys bring to each record, and the wincing doesn't ruin it. There's something exceptionally brave about this whole thing. Back to the record:
"Black Wig", another yeller, is a good take on Bone-Machine-era Tom Waits. "Under the River" is a very nice Neil Young song, all jammy and minor key, with a less ominous story: little kids play on the shore. The guy from "Bottom of the Lake" may be nearby. It's one of three songs that feature a rap-break-bridge, by the way, and those are both awkward and great.
I really like this record. MPT have on- and off-years, as you can imagine, and this is an On Record. It doesn't matter to my fandom, I am in for as long as they are, but I can imagine how fun it must have been to play and release The Ballad of Christian Woodcock, and I am envious.
Do yourself a favour and go check them out - their website has MP3s of all of their music, as well as evidence of their occasional flirtations with being appreciated: a play and discussion by John Peel (!), a clip in a Fox Sports commercial, and a FOUR HOUR show from 2008 on KFJC. (There's even a dead link to the one attempt I did make, back in 2008, at doing a podcast. One episode, and of course it was all about MPT.) I can't imagine anyone, after checking them out, not falling in love. I look forward to the 40th year of the band and hope to have my brand new podcast ready for it so I can finally interview them and find out which one likes jellybeans.