April 24, 2003

Ed's Underground: The Monks

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To anyone calling the Vines or the Hives garage rock: shame on you. As penance, you should be forced to listen to this instead, perhaps one of the best garage rock albums ever made. It’s also one of the strangest stories the Nuggets era produced. The Monks were a quintet of American soldiers stationed in Germany in the mid-’60s; bored with the G.I. life and needing an outlet for their frustrations, they formed a band and began playing bars around Frankfurt. With their black robes and rectangles shaved into their heads, they must have been a weird sight, and their wild, confrontational music must have seemed even stranger.

1966’s Black Monk Time was the only album the group ever released, and it still stands as a seminal classic. If you were wondering where punk got its defiant sneer and attitude from, look no further. The record starts with the chaotic tumble of “Monk Time,” which is typically direct with its declaration that “We don’t like the atomic bomb!” The rhythms sound like they could’ve been bashed out by a caveman on a rock, the guitars shred and grate, and Gary Burger rants and screams over this mess like the deranged adolescent he is, hopped up on hormones and angst.

The brilliantly stupid stop-start chug of “Complication” (with its off-key howls of “complication! constipation!”) remains the band’s only calling card for casual garage fans, and its much-anthologized status is well-deserved, but it’s hardly even the band’s best song. This record is packed to its bared teeth with similarly incredible moments, from the slashing, metallic-sounding guitars of “Shut Up” through the playful “Drunken Maria” and the caustic tell-off “I Hate You.” Teetering between lewdness and innocence, this is music that revels in simplicity and rebellion for its own sake, a sheer joyous celebration of youth and life and sex that still sounds as fresh and relevant today as it did forty years ago. If only all the copycats looking back to this era could’ve gotten it this right.

Archived article by Ed Howard