THURSDAY, MAY 21, 2009
More Monochrome Set; Jorge Reyes
The Secret Museum
By Michael Mooney and Jim Webb
THE MONOCHROME SET
Back during their heyday in the early 1980s, I recall reading in the NME or Melody Maker a review of Eligible Bachelors, the third LP from the Monochrome Set, in which the critic stated that the music was suitable listening for housewives only: hummable tunes, inoffensive content, perfect for doing the washing up or hanging clothes on the line; all others beware. Apart from that blatant bit of sexism, it’s clear that the reviewer, typical of most writing during the waning days of both of these once-great English music weeklies, barely gave the record a single spin. Eligible Bachelors is a great album, as are the Monochrome Set’s first two, Strange Boutique and Love Zombies. The Monochrome Set is responsible for some of the finest subversive music of the late 20th Century, similar in that sense to the magnificent Microdisney, but minus the inferiority complex (and wearing a smaller smirk.)
Self-reflexive beyond compare- sample song titles: The Monochrome Set (I Presume), B-I-D Spells Bid (Bid’s the singer), The Weird, Wild And Wonderful World Of Tony Potts (the group’s resident filmmaker/visual consultant), and Lester Leaps In (showcase for guitarist Lester Square)- The Monochrome Set were also capable of withering satire (Whoops! What A Palaver, Silicon Carne, Alphaville, I’ll Scry Instead), pointed social commentary (Apocalypso, The Jet Set Junta, which may have predicted the Falklands/Malvinas Conflict by some six months), a few rather brazen observations of a physiological nature (Fat Fun, The Mating Game, The Lighter Side Of Dating, On The Thirteenth Day, Love Goes Down The Drain), outright absurdity (10 Don’ts For Honeymooners, Ein Symphonie Des Grauns, Martians Go Home), occasionally all four in the same song (Ice Les Enfants), and rarely, none of the above (the heartbreaking Goodbye Joe.) Bid’s a one-of-a-kind vocalist, though hardly an acquired taste; Lester is the unsung guitar hero of the post-punk era. The Monochrome Set sound like no one else, and they’re better than every single English group of the last twenty-five years.
Strange Boutique (1980)
Love Zombies (1980)
Eligible Bachelors (1982)
Colour Transmission (1992) combines Strange Boutique with Love Zombies in one convenient set.
Volume, Contrast, Brilliance… Sessions & Singles (1983)
There are 6 or 7 further LPs of original material (all good), beginning with 1985’s The Lost Weekend, plus tons of compilations.
JORGE REYES - The Shaman Has Left the Building
In 1990 I bought my first Jorge Reyes CD on the recommendation of a record store owner in Silver Spring, MD. I have purchased, played, and ultimately sold literally thousands of discs since then, but have never gotten rid of any Jorge Reyes. All of his releases are difficult to locate, having been released on various small Mexican and European record labels; some of them I’m still searching for.
Jorge Reyes was born in 1952 in Michoacan, Mexico and died of a heart attack in February 2009 while in a recording studio. His life ended abruptly, but I’m not surprised that he was making music right up to his final breath. He started off playing in various bands during the late 60’s, but became established as the leader of Chac Mol, a progressive Mexican rock band that released five albums in the seventies. After a period of traveling and recharging his creative batteries Jorge decided around 1983 to concentrate on his love of pre-hispanic music. He started to accumulate and play on a large variety of clay pots, flutes, and other native instruments that The Mayans have used for centuries. What made his music so unique was that he combined the indigenous tribal sounds of Michoacan, with state of the art recording technology. Native hand percussion with chanted vocals from local villagers was blended with electric keyboards and synthesizers to create a new modern sound world. His music was mostly instrumental, and had a spiritual or trance like quality to it. Spiritual in his need to reconnect with the Ancient, and he frequently based releases on Mayan themes such as The Jaguar, Dreams or Death. It is hard to categorize his work. New Age music has no soul, so where does that leave the most soulful of experimental electronic artists? Tribal /ambient is a phrase that has been used most recently in describing his work. Meditative at times, longer pieces use repetition as a way of inducing a hypnotic like state in the mind. His music is not for everyone; in fact it can be unsettling in its celebration of obscure rituals and tribal power. There is a fine line between quality trance work, and something bereft of ideas that is simply boring. Jorge was never dull for me, but I like long instrumental passages in music. If you have enjoyed some of Brian Eno’s or Steve Roach’s work he is a kindred spirit but in a heavier, darker vein. This is not an Enya/Yanni / JohnTesh, Sunday morning with coffee artist; Reyes’ music comes alive after dark when the animals and reptiles leave their daytime hiding places.
So sadly, another man done gone. One of the beauties of any musicians recorded legacy is that you can go back and take the same aural journey that he created and was once on. Thank you Jorge for your music, and wherever you’ve gone, it just got a little more interesting.
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