[Reviewed by: Damiano Lanzi]
A monolith is something solid, organic, that is clearly defined in space and that stands firmly against time. In this sense, the title of this album by Bostonian musician and filmmaker Thomas Nöla is programmatic as far as the sound is concerned – and programmatic indeed is the author’s attitude to composing and arranging his music. The sonic elements in “Monoliths” are disposed with an essential and methodic taste, to create an alternate aesthetic of the new-wave sound. Nöla is an inventive multi-instrumentalist, relating in a personal and peculiar way to every instrument played in this record: from his distinctive ambient synthy-organs, to the deeply chorused baritone guitar and the fretless bass. The sounds are very clear, they’re not amalgamated and every melodic line has its defined space in the mix.
The manifesto of this sound is surely “Reptiles Like Us”, where the instruments create extremely daring harmonies, constantly hanging in the balance between in and out of tune; inspite of that, you can never doubt Nöla’s musical education while listening to this record. The individual instrument parts appear to be linear, but the ensemble is subtly, almost subliminally unsettling, a feeling which doesn’t leave the listener for the rest of the album.
Thanks to its unusual, almost jazz-fusion attitude to the cold-wave style, “Monoliths” doesn’t appear to be the usual ‘80s mockery or a retro-futuristic exercise in style, but a sincerely modern reinterpretation of vintage structures. This is evident in the dubstep crackles of the opener “Object” and “Cannibals”, or in “Happy New Year From The New World”, with its filter sweeps and its krautrock pace; also in the interesting couple of songs “Golem Tango” and “Naives & Visionaries”, where the author revisits cabaret music in a way that recalls David Bowie. Nöla’s clear, old fashioned voice sings gloomy and decadent melodies, and it’s curious to hear how well his classical songwriting, somewhere between John Cale and la chanson française fits well over this multiform musical landscape.
Nöla has the ability to make this complex work seem easy and “pop”, when instead “Monoliths” is born from the total and scientific deconstruction of all its musical references, of the approach to instrumentation and composition. That’s because this record is made first and foremost of well crafted songs and melodies, that would sound well with any kind of arrangement, enhanced by a unique avant-garde charm. Just listen to the beautiful “Are You In There”, with its Bunnymen-like vocals or the Mexican flavored goth piece “Satan’s Kingdom”.