Though they hail from Tel Aviv, punk outfit Monotonix sounds like 1970s New York punk by way of Los Angeles rockabilly garage heroes like X, The Germs and Alice Bag. On their new album, the speedy half hour long “Not Yet,” lead singer Ami Shalev expectorates, clears his throat and howls through 10 fast-paced tracks. As the second track, “Everything That I See,” opens, Shalev hacks (“ooo-cha-cha”) and then croaks, “Slide my arms to shipping my faith / Shout so strong but not be afraid.” Without Shalev’s garbling Israeli-accent and bizarre syntactical delivery they’re emo lyrics. With them they’re simply surreal.
Though they formed in 2005, it wasn’t until they were banned from most Tel Aviv venues that they took their show on the road. (Monotonix is currently touring the U.S. with upcoming shows in New Orleans, Nashville and New York, among other places.) At Austin music festival South by Southwest last year, Shalev crowd surfed in a green plastic trashcan while the rest of the band decamped from the stage to play amidst the audience. Shalev has the touring band’s equivalent of war wounds; a blow he suffered to his leg at a Tel Aviv show in 2008 was exacerbated in Florida last year when he broke it stage diving.
Listen to Monotonix’s ‘Give Me More’:
What music Monotonix does release tends to be as breathless and rushed as their performances, and the band seems to favor a logorrheic approach to lyrics. The chorus on “Fun Fun Fun” is the chomping, almost psychotic bark of “fun, fun, fun,” over and over again. On the similarly titled “Try Try Try,” backed by grungy sounding guitars and drums, Shalev rapidly intones, “I try, try, try,” over and over into incoherence.
Listen to Monotonix’s ‘Before I Pass Away’:
It’s better to look elsewhere for lyricism, but there’s something very compelling about Monotonix. The misanthropy and bodily fluids aren’t new to punk rock (Iggy Pop mined that territory pretty extensively — what is there left to do after you’ve rolled around in a pool of your own blood, peanut butter and glass?), but the spectacle of seeing an Israeli band put on an insane live show almost overwhelms the music itself.
It’s hard not to speculate about the extent to which they are responding to Israeli politics, much like the Sex Pistols took on Britain. Though Monotonix are reticent about politics in interviews, they are essentially expatriates now. On the closing track, “Never Died Before,” guitarist Yonatan Gat plays a rockabilly riff that sounds like a chainsaw and Shalev howls, “I love you / I hate you,” and then, “I’ll say goodbye forever.” I don’t know that he’s singing to his birthplace, but he sounds a lot like Johnny Rotten shouting down the Queen; jubilant, furious and ultimately nihilistic.
Watch Monotonix play at South by Southwest: