The Monks

Hamburg Recordings 1967

Third Man

Jul 05, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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By now, the story of bizarro rock outcasts The Monks has become one of the most celebrated in all record nerd lore, because how could it not be? A group of American GIs stationed in Germany in the early 1960s, who likely never would have hung out together in any other context, remaining abroad after their tour of duty to become a raving horde of yakkety proto-punks, terrorizing and delighting onlookers on the same grueling Hamburg strip which gave the world the Beatles? That's truly the stuff of legend, friendo. The quintet would famously take the stage resplendent in full monk outfitscomplete with tonsureand accent their relentless churn with bursts of feedback, slash-and-burn electric banjo, and the occasional virulent anti-Vietnam screed (making them quite possibly the first band of Americans to work the latter into their bag of tricks).

You probably already knew all that, though, right? Right. It's a cool story, made all the more intriguing by the decidedly scant evidence presented on their sole LP, Black Monk Time, and a smattering of singles. Their limited output has left all adherents hungry for more for decades, with little evidence that any would be forthcoming. As such, when the record dweebs at Third Man came across a passel of unseen Monks ephemera awhile back, you can bet they were already sweating from the rare photos and whatnot before they even got to the reels of unreleased, unheard material the band recorded in Hamburg in their waning days. For Third Man to not release this find to the world would be a crime against humanity, and since there are plenty of those to go around these days, our pals took the high road.

As luck would have it, it's pretty hot stuff, too, albeit not nearly as unhinged and ferocious as Black Monk Time staples like "Complication" or "I Hate You." "I'm Watching You" comes closest to the mania of their earlier work, and it's a swell missing piece of the puzzle, but the tracks that depart from the template are fascinating, too. "I Need U Shatzi" and the instrumental "Yellow Grass" trade out the ghostly chug of the banjo for a spritely trumpet, which was intended as a commercial move, but just sounds surreal in context. The instrumental track is especially unusual: whether the boys were getting down on British music hall or just trying to roll into the side door of the Fab Four's wheelhouse, it came out bent all funny. Weird, it must be said, flowed through these Monks' bones.

Hamburg Recordings 1967 hardly feels as revelatory as what we already had, which is no big surprise. Still, this brief collection serves to expand our understanding of the Monks story, and that should be plenty exciting for any true believers. (www.thirdmanrecords.com)

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