In his mind-bending essay on Marx and Shakespeare, visionary French philosopher Jacques Derrida imagined a future, which comes from the past. “The same question had already sounded,” he writes in Specters of Marx. “The same, to be sure, but in an altogether different way. And the difference in the sound, that is what is echoing this evening.”
Echo. Sound. The echo of past voices in current artists. Artists who could not have been foreseen in past eras, even if they now harken back to those same eras. The interchangeability of times in art.
“It’s not older music, it’s just music,” says Kelly Finnegan over the phone. Kelly sings for the once—or future—San Francisco band, The Monophonics. “Music is the only thing… it’s not like anyone looks at a painting and goes, ‘That’s an old painting.’ It’s just art. It’s a stamp of time.”
The Monophonics came to prominence when Finnegan joined the band in 2010—riding a wave of bands which harkened back to a previous era of music. “Popular music,” Finnegan is quick to clarify.
“Popular music was such a different term back then,” he says. “Because it was just popular music, and now it’s kind of just… pop. James Taylor was popular music, the Isley Brothers, really it just described people who were selling records. You know what I mean?”
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings found great success reviving the classic sounds of ’60s soul and motown in 2002. The soul revival went global with Amy Winehouse in 2007, and Duffy in 2008. More recently, Charles Bradley, with his almost unbelievably moving voice, has captured the popular imagination while recalling a similar era.
Though they draw from a related pool of influences, The Monophonics also bring elements of ’60s psychedelia into the mix, which sets them apart from their contemporaries. Strains of Jefferson Airplane, Love, and The Zombies can be heard all over their 2015 album, Sound of Sinning. The title track, with its bob and weave bass line, tambourine snaps, and crisp ooh-ing background vocals instantly recalls the paisley pysch of the Zombies’ classic, “Time of the Season.”
The band is incredibly tight on record. Each guitar line and overdriven horn part are woven together into a seamless and taught sonic fabric. They sound like they’ve been working out each minute detail of the song together for months on the road. So it is almost bewildering to hear about the Monophonics’ unconventional writing style.
“We don’t demo songs, we don’t rehearse them for weeks, we don’t like go and be like, ‘Let’s see how audiences react,’” Finnegan says. “Every song that you hear is written that day and played like an hour later. So if we show up at noon, we’ll sit around, we’ll talk about what we want to do that day, we’ll listen to some music…and then we start writing a tune. We roll tape that day and record it, and 95 percent of the time, that’s what gets kept.”
This may sound like a slapdash approach. But Finnegan once again draws from an earlier era to explain the thought process.
“A lot of the songs we all like from the ’80s and ’90s,” he says. “Someone would show up to a session and it’d be like, ‘Here’s the song, here’s the charts,’ and a couple hours later they’re rolling tape and, boom, it’s done.”
The proof is in the pudding. The band sounds hot as hell. Throughout the record, moments from earlier times pop up, like the echo of a ghost, drenched in reverb and compression. “A question of repetition,” Derrida reminds us. “A specter is always a revenant… it begins by coming back.”
Jun 4, 8pm, $13-$15
The Ritz, San Jose