All Content © 1997, 1998 Jared O'Connor and Michael Baker

The Monks - Black Monk Time - Infinite Zero, 1997 (reissue)

September 3, 1998

This is the soundtrack to the most bizarre story in rock and roll. In 1966, five American GI's stationed in Germany decided to form a band designed to disturb people. Calling themselves The Monks, they shaved their heads, donned black robes and pounded out impossibly primitive songs like "I Hate You", "Complication" and "Shut Up". Radical stuff for audiences in the midst of Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" infatuation; predictably, their album went nowhere. This was, after all, an ocean away and a year before The Velvet Underground's first experiments with atonal noise, and a full 10 years before the punk explosion.

Three decades later, this reissue of The Monk's only album finds them still out of time, but slightly more acceptable to audiences. Only slightly - this is Very Wacky stuff. With pulsing fuzzbox bass, slashing electric banjo, tribal drums and deliberately amateur organ squeals, The Monks thumped out quasi-surf cacophony, two-chord rants, angst polkas and surprisingly catchy melodies yelped by "singer" Gary Burger with a dark, campy sense of humor.

There's nothing to these songs but raw energy and primal rhythms, with a lyric or two (at most) tossed in for emphasis, like "I hate you with a passion baby, but call me". That's all you get for 3 minutes, and that's all you need. Call them the first punks, call them angry delirious Beat poets, but any way you slice it, whether avant-garde weirdness, garage rock or vicious punk, these kids did it first. But really, it's all about the electric rhythm banjo. Where else are you going to hear that?

- Jared O'Connor

impossibly primitive
Punks before their time

All Content © 1997, 1998 Jared O'Connor and Michael Baker