Monstrance – Monstrance (Ape House)
For those of you who thought that Andy Partridge had simply gone the route of “closet cleaning” with the release of last year’s vast Fuzzy Warbles: Collector’s Album box set, his latest project wants to assure you that he isn’t ready to reside on the merits of his history just yet.
Monstrance finds Andy partnering up with Shriekback members Barry Andrews and Martyn Barker for a two-disc exercise in improvisational exchange. Andrews, you might recall, was a member of the original XTC line-up before leaving to form Shriekback, but be warned: Monstrance sounds nothing like either of those bands.
So what does it sound like? Pretty much what you’d expect from an album with liner notes that read, “There was no rehearsal or discussion about key, tempo or feel and no overdubbing. It just came out this way.”
Before you’ve completely written off this project, consider who’s in the mix here and remind yourself that a lot of your favorite bands perform this exact same experiment every time they begin feeling around for new material. Hell, The Church have a released a couple albums of nothing but their improvisational rehearsals and The Grateful Dead performed nightly explorations under the “Drums/Space” title, live in front of thousands of fans. Of course most of them were baked…so ok…bad example there.
I guess what I’m asking you to do is to admire the cojones that it takes to release a project like this; either Andrews/Barker/Partridge are enormously talented and the recording reflects this or they’re extremely pretentious to think that fans would want to hear ninety minutes of them (essentially) dicking around the studio. I used the Church/Dead analogies purposefully, as Monstrance sounds similar to both the Aussie’s Bastard Universe limited edition disc and the live Dead’s “time to spark a joint” psychedelic forays.
Each disc starts with some fairly worthless directions before, occasionally, a groove, a pattern or an intriguing phrase finally takes root. Clearly, a double disc of this type of thing is unwarranted; there’s several minutes of head-scratching that can be found throughout the record as the musicians seems to be waiting for someone else to take the lead and burn a path towards something concrete to build upon.
I certainly don’t want to discourage Partridge from working with Andrews again, particularly since Colin Moulding seems to have retired from music, thereby retiring the XTC moniker in the process. But then again, I don’t feel inclined to support a project that is better served to remain in the vaults or used as a starting point for something more linear.
Besides, I think that fans deserve a little more effort from Partridge as of late; we’ve spent a few years now shelling out for his unreleased material and endless Apple Venus editions. So isn’t it time for him to buckle down and provide us something tangible?
Monstrance is merely Partridge back-filling his recent house cleaning with some additional clutter that should have stayed in the closet.