Meridian (baited breath)

Monks of Doom

By Bob Bahr

Transplanted rhythm section of Camper Van, with Hungarian melodies and polka feel. Why did Camper Van Beethoven break up? Why are the Monks of Doom, which is 3/4 Camper Van Beethoven, on baited breath productions and not Virgin Records, the Campers' old home label? Why is there a hideous man in a top hat, wearing a monocle, on the cover of their album Meridian? Why does the music within sound like Hungarian folk music with an alternative rock streak in it?

Meridian asks more questions than it answers, but like your college philosophy class, that is the idea. Sometimes with the funkiness of James Brown and sometimes with the funkiness of David Lynch, Meridian is at least consistently funky.

And very original. It manages to sound cohesive while veering wildly from hard rock (a la Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd) to light, dancebeat alternative rock. Then, undeniably, a polka, with Victor Krummenacher's upright bass oom-pahing away, Greg Lisher's guitar giving the downbeat a tight chop, and David Immergluck taking the lead on mandolin. Gone is the fresh-faced, smart-alecky approach of Camper Van Beethoven. Retained is the inventive rhythms and haunting country strain of the defunct college radio darlings.

The overall tone of the record is dark, yet optimism rears its ugly head in the dangdest places. Once cut finds the four boys in Monks of Doom busy singing, The door to success/Is always open. How can they sing with their tongues in their cheeks? How (and why) did they think to combine Eastern European folk sounds with reggae, funk, King Crimson and moody modal gloom rock?

The last cut, Circassian Beauty, leaves the listener fully cognizant of the Monks' accomplishment. Lolling in Adrian Belew-ish vocal and guitar ramblings, bookended by Santana/Third Stone from the Sun free form jams, Circassian Beauty recalls the ponderous funk of select Led Zeppelin, set perhaps in an angst-soaked CBGB. Throw in a calliope, a joke or two, and some lost, lurid Captain Kirk dialogue, and you have it.

Have what? What is this weirdly engaging music? Where will it take Monks of Doom? Will you hear it on the radio? The last question is the only one I can answer for sure: No.