Even though they’re not the most primitive or “authentic” of modern-day garage bands — there’s nary a single one-chord song or bowl haircut among their assets — Bellingham, Washington’s Mono Men are pretty much unparalleled for sheer scope of know-how. Equally proficient in proto-punk, surf and likkered-up R&B, the quartet plays party-rock the old-fashioned way — loud, hard and until four in the morning. NRBQ, eat your hearts out!
While the Men are heard at their best on singles — if you need proof, check out any of the three dozen (!) or so they’ve released — there’s enough dynamic sense in the band’s bag of tricks to sustain an album without ramalama burnout. Stop Draggin’ Me Down divulges that straightaway, with guitarist Dave Crider (who also runs Estrus, one of the ’90s’ pre-eminent garage labels) marshalling riffs into formations that can churn (as on the pissed-off title track) as well as tickle (the twangling “That’s Her”). CD pressings append three extra tracks, including the incendiary (no pun intended) “Burning Bush” from the band’s 1989 debut single. The subsequent Booze EP — swathed in a cover treatment swiped from the Sonics’ Boom — sticks to standard Northwest garage fare, but Crider and John Mortensen bang out guitar riffs with both power and clarity, a novelty in this scuzzier-than-thou genre.
Wrecker! explores the darker fringes of the genus thuddus, recalling precursors like the Music Machine in minor-chord-driven, paranoia-tinged tunes like “Took That Thing.” A new-found appreciation for stereophonic sound brings out the beefy flavor imparted by the tightasths rhythm section of Ledge Mortenson and Aaron Roeder (who slips some head-turning drum maneuvers between spates of head-down 4/4 pounding). That trend continues on Bent Pages, which — despite covers of both the Sonics (“Boss Hoss”) and Billy Childish (“Catalina”) — might be the band’s most, er, mature record: the swirling “Away” sounds a lot like the Doors’ pop-conscious material, while the album-closing version of the Wipers’ “Over the Edge” burns with an intensity that no structure as rickety as a garage could possibly contain.
The band apparently needed a psychic breather after that, since it seems like the darkest ingredient to go into making the all-instrumental Shut Up! was the odd imported beer. Split evenly between originals (Crider’s tremolo-crazed “Phantom on Lane 12”) and covers (a wicked version of Link Wray’s “Rumble”), the set goes a long way towards reclaiming non-vocal rock from the prog-hounds on the left and the lounge lizards on the right. Underground illustrator Art Chantry, who cooks up the majority of the quartet’s cheesecake sleeves, turns in a particularly snazzy Irving Klaw-styled number this time around. As befits its title, Sin & Tonic is rife with songs of praise for the things 12-step groups were invented to exorcise. Not that it’s a party album per se: “Mystery Girl” and “Scotch” seethe more than they explode, with edgy guitar leads snaking in and out of the rhythm section’s hip-waggle. The tension does give way to release on the punkabilly “Waste o’ Time” and the menacing “Hexed,” both of which provide 100-proof purgatives for the soul. The live album preserves a particularly in-the-pocket set (allegedly recorded at Illinois’ favorite strip joint/bowling alley) for which the Mono Men deserve extra credit, given the intensity of the band-wide obsession with both burlesque and ten-pins.
The Roofdogs, who pre-dated the Mono Men, were responsible for the first Estrus release — the Pound Bound cassette, which trickled out in the waning days of ’87. With the four future Mono Men augmented by Farfisa organist Josie P. Cat, the ‘Dogs energetically saunter through the six surf-leaning ditties on Having a Rave-Up, which borrows the title and clones the sleeve art of the classic Yardbirds LP.