At its best, Monocled Man’s latest offering is an inventive and surprising blend of cool jazz with unsettling, quasi avant-garde electronics. At the other end, rambunctious and frustrated lines with repetitive timbres lend an anxious mood.
Every track offers a completely different percussive soundworld with endless variety too on the electronics, but the tracks equally keep slipping back into old territory: most feature soft upper registers of trumpet, with plenty of reverb and echo, in melodic lines that appear almost interchangeable between tracks, and much of the clean electric guitar sounds bleak and swampy. This makes the three vocal tracks all the more welcome and distinctive.
Many of the tracks are rhythmically surprising, with frequent significant rhythmic restructuring within individual tracks, including Marie Betsy, which features virtuosic-sounding electric guitar in a variety of timbres. There are so many unprepared cross-rhythms and outlandish syncopations in the first half of the album that the music feels almost conflicted between a groove that never arrives and a more adventurous, through-composed rhythmic form. We get a groove in the sixth track, the brief and bittersweet duet Fiction Afloat.
The penultimate track Erebus ends, after six and a half minutes of unintrusive dissonance, with a momentary cheesy major 7th chord on solo electric guitar. There are many off-kilter moments like this dotted through the album, and listeners will have to make up their own mind whether that is interesting and whether it rewards or devalues conscious engagement with the work. As a whole, We Drift Meridian is not an easy listen, and yet the album has such blatant and significant throughlines, it does demand to be listened as a whole. Listeners who do will find beauty, inventiveness and skill.
We Drift Meridian by Monocled Man is out now on Whirlwind.