The Monolith's music could be a guilty pleasure. In fact, it should be. But there's nothing to feel guilty about here, despite the indulgent, booming synthesizers and the big guitars bursting throughout. On its debut full-length, Here Comes the Monolith, the San Francisco act knifes and glides through synth-pop, power-pop, and prog-pop, turning bits of '80s new wave into soaring, futuristic rock 'n' roll. Catchy, sad, and relentless, these nine tunes announce the Monolith as one of this city's most exciting new bands.
Does the retro synth-pop formula sound familiar? Perhaps. But where other like-minded S.F. groups succeed in rocking hard or singing sunny, few do it all as confidently as this trio. Wailing keyboards fit into danceable grooves glistening with drum snaps and cymbal splashes. Horn and string lines join bleepy noises to create atmospheric intricacy, while alternately roaring riffs and acoustic strumming align with vocal harmonies that are sleek and thick and bright, as effortless and interwoven as those of Simon and Garfunkel.
Vocalists Dahla Ramirez and Bill Rousseau — who double on synthesizer and guitar, respectively — pen puzzling, sorrowful stories for and about those stung by love. “She thinks of me as temporary/ She's not far from wrong/ Can't think of her as mine forever,” they sing on the fuzzy, brass-led “Heart Like a Diamond.” Yet the pair, who co-write the songs with bassist Rogge (yes, just Rogge), still retain their sense of the absurd, packing humor into their misfortunes: “Saw you crawling back home with your heart in tow/ Lower on the totem pole and your bags on my porch/ The details were sketchy just like the messenger/ It's a long way from Baltimore to New Siam,” goes the spacey “Alpha.” The trio downplays these dejection portraits with swirling melodies and a gentle backbeat. On the heaping standout “10 X Infinity,” the musicians reveal a sharp longing for courage — both to talk to a love interest and to make out with audience members — amidst huge, Cars-like guitar riffs. Monolithic indeed.