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Monarch do some housekeeping on "No Vacancy" and turn up a stash of tasty licks and inner strength

Monarch do some housekeeping on "No Vacancy" and turn up a stash of tasty licks and inner strength

Mixing jazz and rock is never an easy prospect. For every blazing Birds of Fire style powerhouse there’s at least a dozen tepid Jazz Odysseys. And for every sleek, sophisticated Aja there’s hundreds of schmaltzy smooth-jazz/soft-rock hybrids pumped directly into the dentists’ and orthodontists’ offices of this great nation. But here at DeliCorp we’re not afraid of tasty licks nor extended chords. And don’t even get us started on syncopated bass lines favoring non-triadic embellishing tones over more quotidian root notes...

…and the Hudson-Valley-by-way-of-Brooklyn musical quartet Monarch (est. 2021) clearly aren’t afraid either as demonstrated on their latest single, “No Vacancy” (recorded live in one take!) which seemingly (but surely not in reality!) effortlessly walks the line between emotional resonance and technical dexterity with Sarah Hartstein’s alternately silky 'n' gritty vocals adding a layer of coy come-hither-but-keep-your-distance bluesy sensuality that’s likely to bring to mind Carroll Baker’s titular vestal vamp in the 1956 succès de scandale Baby Doll for all those fans of mid-century cinema out there

…and if you play the track back-to-back with the band's preceding EP Sweet Little Things it’ll feel like the glory days of 2002-03 all over again with Come Away With Me and Belly of the Sun and Frank hitting the CD racks in quick succession seeing as Monarch pulls off a similar stylistic balancing act as these records where musical chops don’t preclude the ability to write a solid pop hook (“out of sight / out of mind…”, for instance) with “pop” as the leavening agent that keeps the other musical ingredients from getting too puffed up and overwhelming the recipe...

…while also setting those ingredients in sharper relief which helps explain why the instrumental components of “No Vacancy” pop like they do such as in the rhythm section interplay between Alex Alfaro (drums) and Jesse Hartstein (bass) locked in like the gears and springs of an intricate antique clock and then there’s the guitar wizardry of Nick Pappalardo moving fluently from jazzy comping to playful interplay with Sarah’s vocals to solos juxtaposing the tastiest of tasty licks with flamenco-like strumming at one point not to mention the groovy ambient-flavored guitar work heard on the song's instrumental prelude “Melomanie"...

…and all this talk of perfect balancing acts is pretty apropos to the lyrical theme of “No Vacancy” which is all about finding balance in one’s life and maintaining interpersonal autonomy in the face of another party who’s alluring enough to be described as one-of-a-kind and the personal vicissitudes induced (“I know it seems like / I’ve got myself together / but I promise that / changes like the weather”) or as Sarah herself puts it: “[the song] captures the essence of a person's fear of letting anyone else into their life…explor[ing] the importance of self-preservation and the need to prioritize one's own mental and emotional well-being...no matter the temptation"...

..and when you really think about it [pause] relationships are a lot like jazz-pop-rock fusion songs ammirite cuz for one thing there’s gotta be an initial spark with any new romance and that’s the pop-style sweetness that lures you in but in any relationship there’s also power dynamics that develop over time whether you like it or not and that’s the rock side of things and then there’s always plenty of improvisation (figuring it out as you go, experimenting, etc.) that has to happen between partners too to make any form of coupling or thrupling or whatever work in the long-run, or heck even the short-run, and that’s the jazz side of relationships obviously so go check out “No Vacancy” and listen and learn… (Jason Lee)

Published: April 16, 2023 |

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