Reviews of Rock 'N' Roll Monkey & the Robots, Lost in the Trees

Weekly music roundup.

Rock ’N’ Roll Monkey & the Robots
Back to Beatsville
Motor Sounds

Alright, we admit it. This band got our attention when they sent this reissue along with the same album on an eight-track cassette. In this writer’s 15 years of music journalism, that’s a first, and it sent us scampering to eBay to see how much we can pick up an eight-track player for these days. The answer: too much, so that cassette will go unplayed for the foreseeable future. No matter — it makes for a nice ornament in the MT office.

Enough of the silliness, though, let’s get down to brass tacks. Back to Beatsville is the second album from the busily named Rock ’N’ Roll Monkey & the Robots, and the band is putting it out again because they sold out of the first pressing. Whether “doing a second pressing” and putting it out with an eight-track cassette constitutes a reissue, we don’t know. Suppose so.

The music is way, way better than you might expect after reading all of the aforementioned attention-baiting nonsense. The band members have obviously paid a lot of attention to the arty side of the CBGB’s scene (Talking Heads, Television), as well as the Velvets that preceded it, and the B-52’s that popped up at the tail end. There’s some Barracudas-esque surf in there, some J-rock, and some new wave. The result is a quirky take on garage rock that isn’t afraid to wear its old fuzzy influences on its contemporary sleeve. 

Frontman Craig Campbell decided to take on the moniker Rock ’N’ Roll Monkey after the sound made by a 1959 Japanese tin toy. I guess we should all feel fortunate that the band isn’t called Hungry Hungry Hippos & the Kerplunks, in that case. Whatever the band is called, the familiar-yet-unusual music is worth checking out. —Brett Callwood

Lost in the Trees
Past Life

Wow, this is different. The new album from acclaimed Chapel Hill band Lost in the Trees opens with symphonic sounds, loops and a piano, creating an earful of lush noise. These guys are not afraid to fill the tracks, though they can hold back when need be too. It’s a little ironic, because on the press release they talk about removing orchestral density and stripping things away. Sure, that’s evident on a song like “Lady in White,” but “Excos” is as orchestrally dense as anything that the band has put its name to. These are all just minor details though, because the songwriting on display is quite magnificent. When the band really hits its stride, as on “Daunting Friend,” the music is beautiful and hair-raising. They might hate this, but there are elements of Enya about the haunting, chant-like chorus in that song, minus the new-age silliness, of course. 

What we have here is a band that has been searching for its voice for a few years, and is now sitting at its peak. The hooks are overt and irresistible, even when jumbled in with the structural awkwardness. Effort is required, but this is a record that will live with you for a long while if you let it. —Brett Callwood


Pieces of Us Were Left on the Ground

Apparently, Joycut is Italy’s foremost dark-wave exponents, ahead of the likes of, umm, well, all of the Italian dark-wave bands that you’ve likely never heard of. This largely instrumental record definitely has a dark-wave feel, but there are also elements of Kraftwerk here; heavy on the synth, the record could easily be a movie score. Maybe the term darksynth is more appropriate, though it’s probably best not to journey too far down that genre path. What it is is an extremely enjoyable album. We could pull out individual songs, but this isn’t that sort of record. This is the kind of thing that, to get the most out of, you want to lie down with the lights off and just push play. Hell, you don’t even need drugs. Just cut out any other forms of stimulation and enjoy.

It’s not until track six, “Funeral,” that we hear any vocals and, to be honest, they only serve to kill the previously floaty mood. JoyCut is at its best when the tunes are allowed to breathe, and the singer shuts the fuck up. To be fair, that’s exactly what happens most of the time. —Brett Callwood

Joe Louis Walker
Hornet’s Nest

Joe Louis Walker is a Blues Hall of Fame member, which comes as no surprise at all after listening to this new album. The San Fran man is 64, and yet he plays with the freedom and exuberance of a man a third his age. This is a joyful, moody, honest blues rock album. The tunes just swing along from one to the next — if anything, each song is over a little too quickly. The lyrics are crammed with poetic wit, highlighted by the excellent “Stick a Fork in Me Baby (I’m Done with You).” 

Walker wears a lot of hats (metaphorically and literally), and that holds him back a little. One minute, he’s rocking like Lenny Kravitz, then he’s playing a bit of New Orleans swing, then some trad blues. It makes for a bit of a collage of an album. But Walker’s musicianship is so exemplary, his band is so tight and his songs are so damned cool that it’s a small complaint. At this point in his career, the man can do whatever the hell he wants to anyway, and there’s more than enough to enjoy here. If anything, it only serves to raise the question: How come it took until 2013 to get him into the Blues Hall of Fame? —Brett Callwood

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