Review Summary: Soothing over spastic
The Chicago collective Monobody have been crafting intriguing music in an under-the-radar fashion for years. The band falls into a distinctive place in the musical world. To quote our esteemed colleague Dedex from his excellent review of Monobody’s preceding LP, “as one member put it during their Audiotree interview/show, most rock clubs would call their music jazz, and most jazz clubs would call them rock”. Comma is the group’s third full-length effort, following 2015’s self-title debut and the aforementioned sophomore effort Raytracing in 2018. Genre ambiguity is still very much on display with their latest album, and Monodoby once again wears it well.
As usual, the band continues to explore an impressive swathe of musical territory. One could argue that the group’s main touchstone is instrumental prog rock, occasionally sliding towards metal, but jazz and math rock are also critical elements of the band’s sound, and touches of post-rock make their way in too. In the past, the band’s songs have often been rather lengthy expositions,with different segments of each track leaning more in one direction or another. Monobody’s preeminent strength has always been their exceptional ability to mold these varied sounds into a cohesive whole, without any transitions feeling forced. While the genres influencing the band’s sound on Comma are still largely the same, the album nonetheless feels like a bit of a departure for the Chicagoans. This is because Monobody have tightened up the track lengths and made their songs a tad more straightforward. The results are an impressive clinic in sunny-day instrumental jazzy/mathy/proggy music.
The vibe on Comma is bright and resolutely vibrant, as typified by the gorgeous album cover. The music feels relaxed even at its most intricate, despite the band’s technicality at some points. To expand on the review’s summary, Comma sees Monobody exploring a sound which soothes, in direct contrast to the normally spastic nature of math-associated acts. The result is a master stroke of atmosphere, with the album crafted to be exceptional music for warm summer days. While the band has always had an atmospheric touch, the expansion of this aspect appears to be Monobody’s great innovation on their third effort. While the wide-ranging nature of the group’s previous output has been streamlined (to a certain degree), they haven’t compromised any of their essential virtues, and as such Comma is both their most accessible and strongest overall effort.
The band’s record label states that Comma is thematically inspired by butterflies, which specifically “represent the flowing, rise-and-fall dynamics of the 7 songs (all named after butterflies)”.With the tunes solely instrumental, there are no conceptual lyrics to be found, but it’s interesting to analyze Monobody’s work here through the lens of an exploration of the butterfly life cycle. The band gives us no weak tracks on Comma, but there’s a fair amount of variety, from the effortless jazzy grooves of opener “Eighty Eight” to the vaguely melancholy “Cloudless Sulphur” to the penultimate track “Harvester”, perhaps the album’s strongest, with its sublimely minimalist intro leading into smooth musical exploration which ends with one of the only moments here which approaches metallic territory.
At worst, Comma should be a serviceable album for accessible background music while the listener is focused on something else. The brilliance of Monobody’s sound, though, is that their music holds up well and significantly rewards closer listening as well. If there’s any justice, the band’s third LP should reach a wider audience than their previous efforts have. This is one of the finest albums of the year, and recommended to any and all music fans, given its genre versatility and engaging mood.