by Chad Jewett
Monument arrived last decade as part of a mini-generation of bands that would end up more or less rescuing, then retrofitting, the aesthetics of emo. If the genre found its first real creative explosion in the cerebral expressionism and reedy melody of a small group of Chicago-adjacent kids – Braid, American Football, The Promise Ring, Cap’n Jazz and (to the southwest) The Get Up Kids – then it found its second (or third or fourth, depending on how you’re counting) in the mid-fi adolescent punk of a DIY mid-Atlantic, led by Snowing, Algernon Cadwallader, 1994! – and Monument. Each of those bands found corners of the discographies of Polyvinyl, Vagrant, and Crank! and set to their own individual reconstruction projects. Algernon took the dizzying energies and short attention spans of Cap’n Jazz and turned them into community-minded bursts of left-field pop. Snowing pared the jitters of Four Minute Mile to something elemental and confident. On 2010’s Goes Canoeing, Monument retained some of the nervier edge of their greater D.C. home, making something at once scrappy and taut out of post-hardcore remainders.
Slowly those bands set about recording final records and booking farewell shows, their short runs as oddly consonant with the emo innovators of the mid-90s as their sounds. Parrot Flies was an apotheosis of Algernon Cadwallader’s sweetened math-core, an assured final summary that found new efficiency and weight for the bubbling pop jumbles of Some Kind of Cadwallader. I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted arrived as a free download, fronted by a likably goofy black-and-white photo of a housecat held aloft like Simba, a fittingly charming last gesture for a band as amiably informal as Snowing. And now we have Bros Canoeing, the incredible final album from Monument, and quite possibly the tour de force of that early swell of re-energized post-hardcore — an affable, resigned, and sweetly sad postcard from a different place and time.
Despite being Monument’s swan song, Bros Canoeing has all the optimism and intrepid brightness that defined the small wave of humble breakthroughs from Fairweather, Saves The Day, and Hot Rod Circuit a decade-or-so ago. Like those records, Bros Canoeing finds Monument shaping all of emo’s loopy angularity into moving ups and downs and confident, absorbing melodies. Theres a kinetic energy to the album, a palpable sense of animating joy, the fizzy glee of a band figuring themselves out, even if all that serendipity is arriving in the eleventh hour. Take “Marylandification,” a song that manages the kind of poise between tuneful extroversion and crafty precision that defined Hey Mercedes and Moneen, two bands whose sense of balance shows up again and again throughout Bros Canoeing. The same goes for “Yacht Rock”, which stretches one of the band’s finest melodies over a loping 6/4 bounce. The song’s gleaming tunefulness is underlined by the hitch in its step.
There’s a line of demarcation to be traced in the complexity of this sort of brightened post-hardcore, either cluttered for its own sake or built into something worth identifying with. Monument now find themselves steeped in the latter; their last gesture is an exceedingly earnest, cheerful one. There’s a kinetic energy to the album, a palpable sense of animating joy. The album’s opening song, “3 Musketeers” (which also happens to be one of its finest) gleans both sadness and abiding warmth from all of this: “I’ll be around / With my shoes on and my socks off.” There’s a moving economy to that line, to the band’s ability to frame its coda in such contentedness. The song’s outro is set amongst a slight bouquet of strings, an early example of the sonic adventurousness that accompanies Monument’s closing statement.
Later, “Reggaenomics” offers a bucolic interlude of piano, organ and minimalist guitar, a tone poem intermission that lends the album an air of painterly atmosphere. It’s a remarkably delicate passage, and one that makes Bros Canoeing feel intangibly classic, as ecstatically bronzed as the album’s autumnal cover. That feeling of slow fade-out simply means that Monument’s final LP is also defined by a sense of abandon that only serves, perhaps counter-intuitively, to make the record that much more essential. Like Wood/Water or American Football, the album gains pathos in the bittersweet of endings. When the album is at its most irreverent, it feels like the last few dances at a wedding reception. When Bros Canoeing pauses, as on the long, gently abstract first movement of “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer” it’s like the unhurried wavering of an ebb tide; which might be fitting, since in echoing the imagery and sentiment of its first album, Bros Canoeing feels like the product of a band riding out on the same current from whence it came.