I’m guessing a lot of you will relate to the subjects Gabriel finds fascinating, like how sometimes you can feel on solid ground, only to soon find yourself doubting everything. And then back again, on and on. I know I do. The single world that could perhaps best describe the ten tracks of Brigadune is “duality.” It’s about exploring ways to feel encouraged and also staring the hard times straight in the eye. It’s joy and it’s pain. It’s six tracks with words and four that are purely instrumental. It’s very much open to interpretation, which makes it rewarding.
The music is primarily guitar driven, with many memorable riffs and solos. I like the outro of “You Decide.” The rhythm section certainly holds its own – for example, the drumming on “Guard Rail” – and there are flourishes of piano and and shifts in mood that broaden it from being a strictly rocking affair. The songs tell stories with lines that will make you notice and the instrumentals have a touch of the exotic and make it easy to ruminate and daydream, perhaps meditating on a message of another song or finding yourself in a new world altogether. Sometimes it feels like regal pop and other times it reminded me a little of Queens of the Stone Age (something about the chug and melodies of “Get A Grip”). Check out another nimble, riff-driven burner, “Soon,” here.
The guys will be playing a release show at Cameo Gallery tonight. The show starts at 8:00 and costs $10. Also on the bill is Dead Heart Bloom and Handsome Ghost. I’m betting the music of Brigadune will soar live. You can get tickets here.
I was able to get much more into individual tracks, album details, and Greenpoint in an interview with Gabriel. You can read that below.
GP: This is Monuments’ second album. What was different, if anything, about the process of writing and recording this time? Any new goals?
Gabriel Berezin: We different personnel this time around. Robby Sinclair from Lazer Cake stepped in last minute on drums and added great energy and creativity. He is the songwriter and singer of that band so he brought that perspective. Unique for a drummer. Plus he’s just a sick player.
A lot of these songs were conceived from demos that I did with Grant Zubritsky. We went in with a clearer goal this time around. Had a solid understanding of what the album meant. We knew the song order about a month into the recording process. That really allowed us to prepare for the flow of the album. It was a lot less guess work. After we recorded basics at SmackTone Studios in New Jersey, our friend Matt Maroulakos’ studio, the rest was done in my apartment in Greenpoint. We had time to figure out what sounds we wanted. The goal this time around was not perfection, but vibe. We knew when a take was right when the hair on our arms stood up.
This album also benefitted from some added brains that gave it more dimension. Frank LoCrasto played piano and analog synthesizer on a handful of tracks, Amal Bouhabib, Jeff Malinowski, Kamara Thomas did their choral tricks from the Ghost Gamblers, Alistair Paxton on guitar, Bryan Murray took a break from his tour w/ St. Vincent and David Byrne to play some sax, and Matt Whyte from Earl Greyhound also tracked some guitar right before he went on tour.
GP: The press release describes you hitting upon the word “Brigadune,” discovering the play, and seeing a bunch of parallels to your work. That’s cool and interesting. Did you unlock anything else in that moment?
GB: It was definitely a happy accident. I lived in Edinburgh during college for awhile, and it’s one of my favorite places on earth. In the play, two tourists from NY find a utopian town in the highlands of Scotland that only exists for a day once every 100 years. It hit so close to home. Whenever I think of that place, I’m flooded with fond memories. When you find something seemingly perfect, you want it to last forever, but it’s always fleeting. It’s a little sad, but it makes those experiences and memories special, even if they are a bit slippery. That really started to inform the themes of Brigadune.
GP: I had to look up the meaning of “Hypnagogia” and liked that it means “transition from wakefulness to sleep.” Yet I would say this song musically is so energetic as to almost suggest the opposite.
GB: I’ve read up a lot on the idea of Hypnagogia. I discovered in a book called “Mind Trip: Adventures on The Wheel of Consciousness.” It reveals the different trances of consciousness we go through on a daily basis. Hypnagogia is a great one. It’s apparently a moment of great creativity. When Thomas Edison was stuck on a problem, he readied himself for a nap and held two ball bearings in his hands over a tin. Some great epiphanies happen in these moments, but you usually forget after falling into a deeper sleep. So right when he was about to nod off, he’d drop the ball bearings and the noise would wake him and he’d write it down the new idea.
The beginning of the album is supposed to be that transition. “Get a Grip” is about trying to control your dreams, so it felt like a good lead in. That is why there’s a lecture by physicist Richard Feynman who is describing how to recognize your surroundings. And then it all goes a bit psychedelic which is what happens in the hypnagogic state.
GP: I find that listening to music in the moments when are close to drifting off is a great experience. Do you have any favorite records to fall asleep to?
GB: I made a mix for my brother a while back to help his first born son fall asleep, and it had the stuff I sleep to, all classical music: Erik Satie, The Moonlight Sonata, Henryck Gorecki, Prelude in E minor by Chopin, Bach’s cello suites.
GP: There are some neat moments where the music deepens the lyrical messages. The energy of “Get A Grip” might be an insistent reminder to do that. Or, the muffled vocals of “Guardrail” suggest the confusion and searching nature of feeling lost , wondering where you are. What are some of the other musical choices that convey a feeling or mood or message that we may not be aware of?
GB: Songs like “You Decide” and “We Decide” were songs Grant and I worked on a lot together. It was originally supposed to be one song, but it made more sense to split them up. “We Decide” turned into its on swirling mediation with layers of guitars and synths and became a companion piece to “You Decide.” The form of “You Decide” came first, then the lyrics, then the layering of synthesizers and background vocals. Aside from the math-y meter, it’s a pretty simple song, so the rest was just individual parts. The song is about avoiding the hard decisions of a doomed but comfortable relationship. We wanted it to sound jagged and pretty at the same time.
GP: There are dualities you are exploring, such as feeling the chaos of the world and powerless, while also taking action and doing what you can to be your best. This is a very fascinating contrast to me because it’s so relatable. On “Gift,” it feels more like the former, like in a line “I struggled to control myself, to trust that we were right,” whereas “Soon,” with parts like “You’re on your own again” feel more confident. What made you want to explore all of this? What do you think helps you stay in the moment, even if everything else seems crazy?
GB: Those dualities are the reason I’m such a neurotic person. There’s duality in everything, and I’ve started to accept that most things contradict themselves and it’s okay, and there’s nothing you can do about it anyway.
That said, the one that really that makes me crazy is the reality that each lifetime is just a blip on the universe’s timeline. Not even just a lifetime, but humanity’s lifetime, life’s lifetime. On the other hand, we only seem to get one shot at this, so everything matters. Every little thing. Both feel a bit paralyzing on their own right, but it’s particularly mind numbing when you consider both simultaneously.
To keep from going bananas? Probably family, friends, love, music, learning new things. The rest feels pretty inconsequential.
GP: “Sole Provider” seems to lend itself to ambiguity well. Perhaps one listener will hear it in a very comforting way. But the tone and the music, which isn’t entirely as fresh as others of the stronger positive message songs, leaves open the idea that maybe this can be a bad thing. That maybe you need some of your own agency. Were you trying to leave it open to interpretation or did you lean one way or another for the song?
GB: I suppose it’s best to let people keep their own interpretations of a song, and I’d hate to interfere with that, but “Sole Provider” is definitely one of the more specific songs on the album. It was inspired by a particularly damning article I read about Scientology written by a former member. I think of it as having three acts: the first is the recruitment phase, the second is the bliss of belonging, and the third is the creepy realization that you’ve been brainwashed.
I was reading a lot about fractals at that time. It was a reminder that geographical shapes like circles and triangles are just a theoretical construct, and don’t represent real life, which is messy and unpredictable. Anyway, it sounded like a nicely cultish recruitment message – “we don’t see no squares, no straight lines.” They accept you for who you are, imperfections and all…as long as you follow the creepy rules.
GP: 4 of the 10 tracks are instrumental. They all feel diverse, too, as does the rest of the album. I wondered if there was anything behind the choice to have a song be instrumental or if it gets words? How would you describe the last track “Brigadune?” I like that it feels exotic, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it evokes.
GB: There is a pressure to put words on everything, but one of my favorite albums is Feel Good Lost by Broken Social Scene. Most of those songs are instrumentals and they’re great. Tried not force lyrics if they didn’t feel organic.
There’s this song by The Meters on their first album, Look-Ka Py Py (all instrumental) called “Dry Spell.” It starts like a slow funeral march, then it turns into this funky groove. Every time I hear it I see a funeral somewhere in New Orleans where the pall bearers are walking somberly with the coffin, but when the funky part hits, they put it down and start a choreographed death celebration dance. (At least this is how I want my funeral to be.)
I know this doesn’t always sound so uplifting, but the album is about a fear of things falling apart, and “Brigadune” is the blissful march into an oblivion. For me, it says, “Sure, it’s all gonna end, but we might as well dance our way out.”
GP: Since your band is called Monuments, I wondered what your personal Mount Rushmore of musical heroes would be?
GB: It would be weird looking, b/c as an all-star band, I’m not sure it would really work out, but I’d see Peter Gabriel’s face, John Bohnam, Keith Richards, Vivaldi, PJ Harvey, Dave Brubeck, and ya know…Prince.
GP: When you reached out to me, you mentioned how the paradoxes of Greenpoint are very much in line with the themes and content of the album. Was there anything about the neighborhood that was a specific inspiration?
GB: I love this neighborhood. When I first moved here, I couldn’t get anyone to come visit me. Now it’s a symbol of Brooklyn growth (I’m sure Spike Lee would have a different word). New places to eat and drink and shop keep sprouting up next to one of the most polluted bodies of water in the United States. Growth and decay constantly nipping at each other.
There’s this hidden, nicely manicured walkway/bike path you can take along a landfill and waterway near the Time Warner offices where you can see dead fish with visible tumors floating near the surface of the water. You can sit at a concrete table and eat bologna sandwiches and stare out into the beautiful wasteland.
When winter ends there is some plant that manufactures god knows what that sounds an alarm/siren that’s incredibly eerie. I waited around for a couple days last summer with a mic in hand to record it so we could slap it at the intro of “Soon.” I fantasize about a zombie outbreak that forces me onto the roof of my building waiting for a rescue helicopter.
GP: Let’s close with a little more about our wonderful neighborhood. How long have you lived here? What are some of your favorite places? How do you find the music and creative community?
GB: I’ve been here almost ten years and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I have always been loyal to Habitat since it opened – great owners (Hi Nicole) and a great burger and a genuinely homey vibe. Old friends with Megan and Lily at Dandelion wine, will always prefer Pencil Factory over the newer spots, the amazing bookstore Word, Five Leaves, The Manhattan Skyline Diner (the best waitresses in town). And I love a midnight bike ride to the end of Manhattan Ave to look out at the skyline while taking in the toxic stink of Newton Creek.
St. Vitus is awesome as is Cocoa 66. There is an endless list of musicians and studios and rehearsal spaces here, making it hard to leave. So easy to collaborate. Our whiz of a mix engineer, Bob Mallory has a home studio eight blocks from my apartment and our guitar player just moved in with him a few months later. This place is just the best.
Thanks, Gabriel. Go see Monuments tonight at Cameo!