Max Henry (Suuns) Talks Monomyth’s Saturnalia Regalia

Album are like green copper rooftops and reviewing them is absurd, which is precisely why you should read this piece.

This is not what I want to say at all. People have a great gift for pathos, for finding the lovable core of anything. We can feel happy for anthropomorphic cars, sorry for old buildings being torn down. Why would an album be any different?

I sometimes think of an album as a highly reactive element – something only pure in isolation. When it enters your world, when it’s exposed to your atmosphere, it oxidizes – gets caked with accretions of memories and associations. It’s rust, it’s green copper roofs. So it’s never really the album that you’re listening to, it’s yourself. This is the third time I’ve rewritten this piece and it’s maddening. Reviews are absurd, that’s why they’re so intriguing. To measure any person by the same sort of criteria would be pure insanity. Not to mention saying the damned thing to their face, can you imagine? So reviews are also cowardly. And, according to my last idea, they’re pure narcissism too.

Saturnalia Regalia is not mixed well. It presents poorly. That’s its biggest problem. But the more I listen to it, the more I try to figure out why I don’t like it, the more the rust builds up. Now I don’t even know if I like it or not. It’s been over a month now of writing and rewriting, and all I smell is blood. The more I can’t explain, the worse I feel. I’m a bad person, a malignant musician, a poor writer. I play the album for my friends and they say “it’s not so bad.” They’re right: It’s not so bad.

Reviewing is absurd because music is so personal that putting it into words is almost a paradox; I find myself settling into patterns of writing, patterns of thought like streams forming through copper sand – but what forms is a formation, nothing more. Sincere? Not at all. What can I tell you about this album before I remember what I wanted to say – it’s not mixed well. I have to say that it’s power-pop, because that’s how you’ll know what it sounds like, because you can look up “power-pop” on Wikipedia and do some more reading about the music, or Youtube it and maybe hear something for yourself. And if you go that far you might as well search for Saturnalia Regalia by Monomyth.

There are also evocations of the Beach Boys in the vocal harmonies, and I say this flatly because I have no personal emotional associations with the Beach Boys aside from listening to their albums 30 years after they were made, their culture already having come and gone 10 years before I was conceived, and because I associate such evocations with other people alluding to the Beach Boys in music but mostly, other people alluding to the Beach Boys in writing about music.

Sometimes listening to music makes me happy but usually it makes me confused, and reading about music usually makes me angry or sad… like a car. There is something happy in this album, but I can’t hear it behind a sonic palette that in my mind belongs to another generation: buoyant bass and drums, spring reverb guitar, lyrics about “girl[s] of my dreams.” Nothing speaks to me, and if it’s trying to, it’s muffled by the oxidizing, the rust, which I guess in this case is my own pessimism.

Because music is about feeling and I can’t provide you with any facts about how you will feel listening to this album. I can tell you that Monomyth is a young Canadian band. I can tell you that this is their first record, which explains certain basic production missteps (like having verse two sound exactly like verse one). They play well, from what I can hear the album doesn’t sound heavily edited, and they sing well, very well, together. I’d like to tell you that the songs are catchy because they’ve been stuck in my head, but I’ve heard the album so many damn times that it doesn’t mean anything to say. The best I can give you is a play-by-play of a couple tracks, the first two on the album, and maybe that will help give a sense of how the whole thing sounds.

On the opening song, “Theme From Monomyth,” guitar 1 starts, mid-to-uptempo — left channel, chorus effect, two-bar plucked backing riff repeated — and the tonality is major. Now the drums come in with a fill and commence grooving with the bass, then guitar 2 (playing a complementary riff) comes in on the right channel. I can hear now that the drums are overly distant and pillowy-sounding, loping rather than spritely, and the guitars are smudged and a little out of tune. It sounds unintentional and not in a charming way. The lead singer enters, a doubled voice — repeats — it’s coming up on 50 seconds and nothing’s changed in texture or dynamics. The chorus backing vocals come in, supporting the lead at first, then breaking off into sustained aahs in harmony, like the Beach Boys. The drummer is hitting all the beats on the snare drum. Second verse same as the first, then eventually the third is also the same.

“Pac Ambition” is midtempo, drums trudging on the floor tom. The bass drones on one note, supporting an intently delivered eight-note guitar riff (major/dominant, in the left channel, with a chorus effect and maybe a flanger) — which repeats. After a pregnant pause… a drum fill crashes into big vocal harmonies (“uuunnnhhh!”) supporting the lead voice (doubled) in a nice, sprawling near-octave melody (b7-6-5-1-2-4-3-1). It’s good but short, cut off by a quick snare fill, then repeats. Then again. And again. The phrases are truncated, but instead of giving the nice cyclic, claustrophobic feeling you get in some Lennon tunes, that insidious growth, they are simply repeated — no growth at all.

Maybe the problem with this album is that it isn’t bad. Not conspicuously so, anyway. Maybe it’s a kind of pleasant neutrality that can drift back and forth in an Econoline above the 49th Parallel for a few years. I can’t figure out why I don’t like it, which leads me to think that it will be largely ignored. CBC Radio 3 will love it. But I’m an asshole. Best of luck, guys.

Max Henry plays synthesizer and bass guitar in Suuns. You can follow Suuns on Twitter here.