t’s so nice having to recalibrate your expectations. At some point before popping 8 Bit Monk into my computer to listen to it, I’d read them described somewhere as IDM meets nu-metal. As you might expect, that dampened my enthusiasm for listening to the disc significantly. Yes, no press release or blurb in the history of popular music has ever been accurate, but even us hardened (*snerk*) professionals (ha ha!) forget that every so often.
Luckily Woven aren’t nu anything, as far as I can tell; the closest they come is the occasional vocal reminiscent of Chino Moreno from Deftones (who are as nu-metal as, say, Queens Of The Stone Age are). There are some louder bits here, but mostly 8 Bit Monk is a triumph of atmosphere over just about everything else. This doesn’t mean there aren’t hooks— ‘Already Gone’ and ‘I Want You Yesterday’ are basically radio ready—but that more drifting, moody tracks like ‘Bubble Wrap’ comprise much of the album. In fact, to call this metal of any sort seems to be a misnomer. Minor key, quavering tracks like ‘Trepanation’ have their charms, but they are not the charms of heavy metal.
The electronic textures and structures implied in the ‘IDM’ reference, on the other hand, are present on every song here, from the relatively storming opener ‘Pillage’ to the short interlude ‘Who Knows’. But they seem well integrated into the conventional rock structure that’s already present, and the end effect is less of a strange new hybrid and more of durable art-rock. The lyrics are spacey enough to avoid attracting attention (and aside from the sweet love song ‘Bubble Wrap’, most of them don’t really bear further examination), and when Woven do stretch out, as on ‘Sync Or Swim’, they manage to put together some good slow burners.
8 Bit Monk is quite a bit weirder to listen to than even that description might imply, though. The closest recent example of this sort of music I can think of is Calla’s excellent 2003 album Televise, although Woven are more fractured, less tensile and less menacing than Calla. They also don’t possess a vocalist of Aurelio Valle’s subtlety, although Jonathan Burkes does a fine, albeit Moreno-esque job. But for the gentler tracks here, such as the softly chiming closer ‘Rooftops’, he also proves capable of restraining himself enough to suit the songs well. The tenderness and sweep of ‘Rooftops’ also shows off the things that, metal pedigree notwithstanding, Woven do best on 8 Bit Monk. The songs are fractured, yes, but once you get used to them they are also warm and inviting.
My first listen to 8 Bit Monk was a bit off-putting, as the songs seemed to veer around almost randomly, never really getting anywhere. Truth be told, if I wasn’t reviewing it, I might have gotten rid of it without ever hearing it again. But further listens have revealed tantalizing sonic layers and purposiveness where I thought there was only void. That makes 8 Bit Monk a promising, intriguing debut, but until we can both see whether the soundscapes here have lasting power and in what direction Woven go next, we’ll have to leave the plaudits at that.