Bay Area bands rarely break up. They usually just stop playing and drift apart, or announce pauses that eventually become permanent. Not so with the San Francisco-New York trio From Monument to Masses, who are calling it quits with the definitiveness one would expect from the bold instrumental rock trio. Before ending, however, From Monument to Masses is playing one final show at the Great American Music Hall, uniting friends and fans for a final celebration of the band's work.
There was a strange, bittersweet irony to the fact that From Monument to Masses' breakup announcement came within days of the news that Godspeed You! Black Emperor was reactivating for some new touring after seven years of dormancy. I've long thought of the Bay Area act as a worthy heir to Godspeed's post-rock legacy. Chronologically, the local trio's first album arriving in 2002, the same year as GY!BE's final one. Both bands shared common sonic threads, too, constructing music that could be quietly pretty or brashly muscular, music that challenged and refuted the pretty, banal side of post-rock with a powerful intensity.
As their name might imply, From Monument to Masses was also unabashedly political, from their name to the samples that mixed a progressive, grassroots-minded revolutionary outlook with a passionate contempt for the militaristic nationalism that has dominated much of the last decade. The band's members were equally political offstage, some worked as activists and organizers, demonstrating that the group's politics wasn't just talk. The group's fusion of politics and music worked, an instrumental canvas enabling well-placed samples to have maximum impact.
In total, From Monument to Masses released four albums, all on Dim Mak Records, whose founder Steve Aoki had been a long-time friend. While that label relationship may have made sense initially, by 2009, when From Monument to Masses released their final album, the pairing had become something of a strange one. Adventurous post-hardcore and post-punk bands like Pretty Girls Make Graves and The Gossip were long gone from Dim Mak's roster, replaced by a variety of dance music acts. One wonders what the group's fortunes might have been like in other pastures, but their breakup announcement, written and posted online by guitarist Matthew Solberg, tempered its regret about what could have been with a level of acceptance:
"I loved every minute of it -- even the minutes that I hated. FMTM was a very frustrating band, mired in frustrating business relationships, frustrating personal relationships, and frustrating contradictions between what we wanted to be and what we were; where we wanted to go and where we were headed. Given these obstacles, FMTM fell prey to a sort of "band entropy" wherein everything that we tried to control slipped even further out of our control. Eventually, the net losses outweighed the net gains and no one was happy. That's when you know your band needs to break up, regardless of whether it breaks your heart or not."
Judging by the comments posted online, the band leaves behind a wake of devoted fans, domestically and abroad. If you're just digging into From Monument to Masses now, the band's final album, On Little Known Frequencies, is, to my ears, their best work. Recorded with Matt Bayles, the album captures the trio at their most melodic and their most intense. From there, I'd work backwards, pausing to note that 2005's Schools of Thought Contend mixed studio tracks with remixes that showcased the band's malleability. In sum, there was a lot to like about this band and its music, and it will be missed.