Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mona Releases Second Album - Torches & Pitchforks

Nashville based band Mona is a group I've been keeping my eyes and ears on over the last year or two. Why? Well, they are new outfit that seems to capture what I think is great about rock and roll - rebellion, style, energy, commitment and above all...great tunes. Turns out, you CAN still get great music from a bass, drum kit, two guitars and a lot of conviction.

I've seen Mona twice in Seattle and once in New York City, and each time these guys don't disappoint. And, they are approachable off stage as I was fortunate enough to meet each member of the band at some point at one of the shows I attended. Good guys.

Torches & Pitchforks Album Cover
In any case, they just released their second album titled Torches & Pitchforks. That's right, as in the villagers out en mass at night to find and kill the village monster - holding aloft sharp pitchforks and flaming torches as they march forward on their mission. So which is Mona, the enraged villagers or the monster?  Maybe a bit of both. Or, perhaps when you listen to this album about standing your ground, reaching for the stars, the sadness of depleted or lost love (or lost opportunity), the excitement of lust and seeking truth in life....they are neither, but rather the energy, spirit or mania that fuels both righteous mob or cornered monster.

You can decide for yourself by listening to their album. If it helps, below are my thoughts on the songs - which Mona have arranged in three parts with interesting interlude sections in between.


Intro. "From the depths of the Earth." This is first of three "interlude" pieces that divide Torches & Pitchforks into three parts. And, it's actually not a song sung by Mona. Rather, it's an excerpt from an old-timey gospel piece, complete with scratchy record sound, called "Born to Serve the Lord" and performed by The Chapel Keys. I like it. Mona definitely plumbs nostalgia in its lyrics and style and has toyed with the salvation and hypocrisies of religion. So, it's a fitting intro to set the stage for what is to come.

Wasted. "Do you believe in God? No, but I still pray." The title and subject of this song plays with a double meanings of "wasted." On one hand, the lyrics suggest a drug addict and his girl trying to come to grips with their situation, seek salvation and then resigning themselves to the fact that, well, it's too late already...full speed ahead! But on the other hand, it suggests two people "wasting" their lives in dead end situations...seeking something bigger and more exciting and ultimately not being afraid to take a big leap to get out, to avoid ultimately wasting away. Or at least that's my interpretation.

Musically, this one kicks off the album proper with a good, fitting rock song Mona style. Nick Brown's powerful, soulful voice sings out and howls over a driving and rumbling accompaniment though the intro, crescendo, breakdown and back to a powerful ending. While this song is perhaps a bit "Mona by the numbers," the song kicks off the album with a burst of energy. It does the trick for me.

2013 Publicity Photo of Mona, main man Nick Brown in middle
Truth. "Oh the nine to five, got you weary souled." A baseline from Zach Lindsey starts this one off with a piano joining next, then a guitar, a deliberately paced drum, lead guitar and ultimately the singing voice to build into a song that's shows some diversity of style for the band. Best I can tell, this one talks about someone who is fed up with the fake and superficial trappings of life, but who is also partnered with someone who is either unaware of the shallowness of those things or indulges in them out of fear. The singer is seeking "truth," but is weighed down by someone who is not or cannot. And what does that ultimately mean? Seems like by the end of the song, the main character has decided to go it alone, with "nothing now" - which is liberating, but also raises the question of "who am I?"

Darlin'. "Don't leave me darlin'." That pretty much summarizes the theme of this song - don't leave me baby! Is it just for the night or forever? Could be either. In any case, this is a stand-out track to me. A jaunty guitar line starts this one out with drums and a second guitar kicking it up a notch as the song moves quickly into almost throw back rockabilly vibe...all of which morphs into more of a rock presentation a la The Strokes and finally ends on a much slower and isolated lament...closing with, "I came here to see you, but you walked out the door." This is a bit of a change up for Mona and for that I like it. The tune sticks in your head and, well, the message is universal. We've all been there at one point or another.

Goons. "Baby I need it all." This is the rebellious first single from the album and has been out for a while now. The title is a take on something Frank Sinatra said when he was asked about the initial wave of rock and roll back in the 1950s. He said in part, "It's sung, played and written, for the most part, by cretinous goons." Mona seem to be taunting The Chairman of the Board by saying, "Hell're right. We ARE those goons...and we want it all!"

Freeway. "I don't want to be the one that leaves." Lyrically, this one is nothing particularly new - perhaps a deeper version of the previous song, Darlin'. Basically, its a guy saying he and his girl have been through a lot and perhaps the end is near, but none the less he does not want to be the one to end things. Musically though, the song is compelling and pulls a the heart strings with a soulful delivery by Brown and thoughtful, moving music to go with it.

Interlude (Don't Cry). "Everyone's on the dash, trying to get it and pile up all the cash, baby it won't last...that's not the way it seems to be with me." This second short buffer segment is Mona this time and introduces what I think is the best third of this album. On this short segment, Nick Brown sings to a ukulele accompaniment and nice breezy backing vocals from the rest of the guys on this pleasantly subdued little track. What's he singing about? A guy who is rejecting the normal pursuits in life and telling his girl not to cry too much about it. I think.

Torches & Pitchforks. "Say what you need to say, you gotta get it right." OK, now we're really talking. This one is the best on the album in my book. Up to now we've had some good songs that are fun to listen to or make you think a little with Darlin' being the highlight to me. But with T&P the band steps up their game and shifts up a gear or two - full Mona style. Baby we got it all: heartfelt delivery by Nick Brown, epic and catchy music, soulful background singers and a theme about facing your fears instead of running - saying what you need to say, doing what you need to do in the face of whatever "torches and pitchforks" are coming your way. A+ work.

Mona on stage in Seattle. Photo taken by Marc Osborn.
Like You Do. "Everybody talks and nobody listens." This is strong musically - catchy and even has a few flashes of synth on it - but lyrically we're back to holding on to precarious love and what may need to change - a theme now done a couple times already on the album. However, I like this one quite well and taking it together with the other songs in this section of the album, it fits nicely.

Cross the Line. "I hoped it wouldn't come to this, but as you're talking I feel my hand turning into a fist." More good stuff! Mona jump into scrappy, greasy, "don't mess with me" territory on this song. Guitar riffing with a piano and driving drum beat kick this song off on a promising note and it turns out...yep, kick ass song. "Back the F*#%K off. What's mine is mine and you are not going to take it, man." That's the message on this noisy, straining song. Dead serious lyrical delivery exploding into a ripping chorus by Brown leaves you convinced he ain't fooling around.

Me Under. "I'm going everything but nice and slow." At times I hear a bit of U2 in Mona, and this song is like that to me. And it's good. It's an expansive tune that starts off with a racing spare guitar and builds quickly into a song that is, best I can tell, about coming of age and a guy who wants to...needs too...feel unconstrained, unencumbered to lash out at (or embrace) all that the world has to offer. And he does not want anyone dragging him under. He wants to go down to the river to wash himself clean of his burdens and go forward from there - at full speed. I rate this song as right up there as best on the album. Strong work from the band.

Interlude (Waiter). "Tell me, waiter...did you get that girl's name?" This is the third interlude bit on the album. It's pretty short and too the point: Hey, I just met (or saw) a girl that amazed me, but I didn't get her name. Anyone know who she is?

Late Night. "It's gonna be a late night she said." This is a song about a girl who is, unfortunately, driven to sell her body for money and the tragedy that this is...the girl knowing she should be somewhere else, doing something (anything) else than her sad realization of what she has to do to pay her bills. In only one line in the song, there is the implication that there is someone outside of this Hell that she wants to "stay near," but that is the only lifeline of hope...the rest is the solid truth that she is stuck in her situation with no seeming way out.

Sounds bleak. And yeah, that's bleak stuff. But, Mona deliver this message in a touching song that messages sympathy for the girl.

L.L.L. This song picks up the anti-conformity sentiment of "Torches & Pitchforks," "Truth" and "Cross the Line" from earlier in the album. It also is another song that has some U2ish elements. With the up-tempo music and rapid and righteous delivery from Brown about "living like lovers" and fighting the good fight, I like this one. But, it isn't quite up to par with those other "I fought the law" songs on this album already. Good, not great.

Love Divine. "Even when it's fair, life's not fair." At almost seven minutes, this is easily the longest song on the album. It's an ambitious affair with piano, synths and a few change ups in pace from slow and quite to loud and rage-y - all centered around mid-tempo backbone. The theme of the song seems to be about pushing past life's pains and traumas to find something real...but honestly the lyrics are all over the place, ending with Brown exalting that "you will find me down on my knees" as the sound of the album fades out over the same crackley record sound it began on.

I'm usually in the camp of getting an entire album by an artist, and I'd recommend that for Torches & Pitchforks too. But, in case you just want to sample a few songs to see if you like Mona, below are some recommendations.

Download Now:
  • Torches & Pitchforks
  • Me Under
  • Cross the Line
  • Darlin'
Want more? Get These:
  • Like You Do
  • Freeway
  • Late Night

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