City Paper is not for tourists
A truism of boogie rock is that it’s usually best performed by trios: think of the James Gang, ZZ Top, and early Grand Funk Railroad. Maybe it’s that trios often try harder than larger bands, as if to compensate for a lack of numbers. Regardless, Monotonix, Tel Aviv’s finest retro-psych hard-boogie power trio, is worth adding to the boogie-rock pantheon. Monotonix’s country of origin is undeniably intriguing: There’s something endearing about three hairy Israeli dudes bonding over a mutual love of Led Zeppelin and trying to recreate that epic rock experience in their own crude way. The band also has received attention for its wild live shows, due in no small part to vocalist Ami Shalev’s manic energy—something shared by drummer Ran Shimoni, who likes to set his cymbals on fire, literally and figuratively. The great-live-band rep can sometimes be a disadvantage, given how hard it can be to capture that intensity in the studio. Luckily, Tim Green of the Fucking Champs, who co-produced the band’s American debut, Body Language, has ensured that the band’s wild and frisky style survived the transition into the studio. The opening track, “Lowest Dive,” launches with guitarist Yonatan Gat showing off with tire-squeal riffs before settling into a downtuned, Thin Lizzy-esque groove; Shalev’s voice is too off-key to properly evoke Phil Lynott, but he does his damnedest, and his heavily accented English is appealing in its own way. Technical precision isn’t important here anyway: Monotonix’s songwriting and enthusiasm is. In that respect, the band recalls Mainliner, an overlooked late-’90s Japanese noise-psych trio whose songs always seemed on the verge of bursting apart. Monotonix’s music often sounds ready to jump the rails: “Summers and Autumns” boasts proggy tempo shifts and Shalev’s swaggering vocals, and Gat occasionally sounds like he’s playing a different song than the rest of the band. Yet Gat and his cohorts keep it together, and Monotonix has no problem keeping the energy level up for Body Language’s 24-minute run-time. In fact, it’s clear they could do it for much longer; each of the EP’s six songs is as powerful as a Merkava battle tank. What helps is that Monotonix doesn’t just deal in brutality. The strutting title track includes an instrumental interlude that’s downright wistful and restrained, surrounded by crushing guitar licks and a lascivious Shalev intoning, “My body language says I am not afraid” and commanding the listener to “dance for me.” And Gat constantly works overtime to make sure no one misses a bassist, playing all the layered guitar parts on the closing “On the Road.” The novelty of an Israeli boogie band has gotten Monotonix some hype, but the band’s catchy hooks, Herculean work ethic, and sense of fun are what really work in its favor.