The USA Is a Monster
Sunset at the End of the Industrial Age
f course the USA is a Monster wants to turn the tide and prepare us for the time after the lights go dim on Western Civilization's exhaust pipe party. For this, the words and sounds are of a war stomp. And the battle will rage, with the battlefield location known as your mind! Not (sic) matter if you download this or buy this in a big box store, look up from your desktop unit and engage this record. It will show you the Shining Path and you know what to do..."
So reads the description for Sunset at the End of the Industrial Age, the most recent release by Brooklyn duo the USA is a Monster, on Load Records' website. Ostensibly, the band's politics are central to its aesthetic. Their live show, lyrics, artwork, and even their name are indicative of their philosophy: Since its inception, the USA's history and actions have been marred by its neglect and cruelty towards its land and people. This is reflected in the band's near-obsession with Native American history, present in the majority of their lyrics. As for their music, it's equal parts classic/stoner rock and no-wave, noise, and free improvisation, tantamount to the abrasion and vitriol of the tone of their message.
The USA is a Monster's last album, Wohaw, was a sprawling concept revolving around the history and present state of Native Americans. It featured a considerable number of acoustic songs, and its cover was akin to a child's drawing, a picture of a Native American standing against the evening sky, at peace with a bison and a bull.
Sunset is consumed by the future. Its cover artwork depicts a neon, highly psychedelic illustration of an antler-adorned, puppet-like face spreading blazing rays across the sky, heading directly towards a Native American girl standing at the edge of the water. Whether it is meant to convey destruction or salvation is up in the air, but it is certain that what is contained within that packaging is a more jarring, caustic, and unambiguous album than Wohaw. But though it clocks in at just under forty-five minutes, it possesses as many ideas and detours. Songs on Wohaw were expansive and given room to breathe. The songs on Sunset are like rockets launched in a small room: they shift technically, stylistically, and dynamically, but are also defined by a strong feeling of claustrophobia.
There are exceptions, as best represented by its longest passage, the thirteen-minute title track, which functions as the album’s centerpiece. A xylophone-like keyboard melody, playing tandem to a gentle guitar, is cast over the duo singing, "But the life you knew was lost forever / When the diggers came in the gold rush days," which is then followed abruptly by a searing sheet of guitar noise and static, accompanied by the shouting of, "And when the sun sets / And the Western power fades / The lights go out and the stars will be so clear." It proceeds into a soft acoustic section and structured, monster riffing, only to return to the opening melody and the hushed chanting of, "And when the sun sets on the industrial age / The night will pass and with the dawn all the spirits will be free."
Other songs, like the raucous, playful swan song, "The Spirit of Revenge," the storming opener, "The Greatest Mystery," and the combustible "Voices to Be Heard," exemplify Sunset's greatest strength, its ability to create multi-faceted, complex, open-ended songs within a seemingly constrictive structure. Wohaw sometimes suffered from evolving too slowly, presenting its challenge in its length. At half the time, Sunset is equally as challenging, displaying multiple ideas within single songs and appending it to music that is similarly confrontational and pulverizing. It requires repeated listens to fully sink in; but given time, its riffs, melodies, and nuances stick, like the barrage of awesome riffs in "Okeepa Ceremony" or the folk-inflected middle section of "The Spirit of Revenge," resulting in some of the band's best work.
At the same time, Sunset regrettably contains some of The USA is a Monster's most annoying and immature output yet. The most blaring example is on "It's a Beautiful Thing (I Like My Oranges Peeled for Me)," where they perform a spoken-word diatribe over a plodding, repetitive kick-drum and droning keyboards and guitars, proceeding into incessant, irritating riffs. In the end, it comes off as bad hippie performance art or yippie ranting. Another song, the brief hardcore of "Too Man Moves," has the duo shouting protests like "shoot at my soldiers," "human shit," and "white AIDS, white cancer, white crack," until it becomes unbearable.
Essentially, what prevents Sunset from being excellent is that The USA is a Monster's music works best when their political tendencies don't overwhelm them. Though radical, the duo's aesthetic is unique and intriguing, but sometimes, in its passion, lacks rationality. The band might say that what they're singing against similarly suffers from a loss for reason or rationality, but that doesn't excuse the effectiveness of the music or its mission, something that, if more carefully tempered, could have increased its impact.
Reviewed by: Tal Rosenberg
Reviewed on: 2006-10-02