The Woolen Men // Temporary Monument
Recommended Track(s): After the Flood
The Woolen Men’s new LP Temporary Monument has more in common musically with bands of the Messthetics’ South Coast D.I.Y compilation than it does anything that’s come out of the Pacific Northwest in the last fifty years. With angular, crunchy chords and repeating motifs of ennui and collegiate dilemmas, the thread that ties the Woolen Men together is punk rock. A few of the songs, “University” in particular, pay stylistic tribute to Portland D.I.Y. punk natives The Wipers. The Portland that once had room for under-the-table venues and an underground music scene is rapidly fading away, at least for the present, and the band seems to be painfully aware of this fact. From the Woolen Men themselves:
“Our hometown has been buried under an avalanche of condos and pointless businesses catering to the newly rich. Noise complaints shut down our shows and pull the plug on countless DIY venues. The places where we lived are being torn down; the rent keeps climbing up. Born too soon or too late, the recession’s effect on our youth was as invisible as it it was profound.”
This sentiment gives much of the album its feeling as songs describing nebulous and upsetting personal relationships blend with condemnations of urban development and negative portrayals of the city. Album opener “Clean Dreams” is a sarcastic description of building a high-rise leading into a neurotic guitar freak out. “Life In Hell” describes a scenario in which our nihilistic protagonist forgets how to perform simple tasks with a repeating refrain of “too late,” echoing feelings of social anxiety over a melody that nearly borders alternative country. “The Desert” is one of their stronger songs, implementing a high energy surf guitar and clocking in at only one minute and fourteen seconds, while “After The Flood” describes an unspecified guilt. “Temporary Monument” elucidates the philosophy of the band: the music the Woolen Men are putting out for the world to hear is transient and will soon be gone. “Hard Revision” is a moralistic punk rock bruiser. “Walking Out” closes the album, a melancholy meditation on leaving: “Feeling dull and feeling strange/ Awake at night, feeling no change.” The template of a city under revision reflects a more personal depression, and the nameless and pervasive unhappiness might make this an album that qualifies as clinically unhappy.
The structure of Temporary Monument invites comparison to Wire’s Pink Flag: energetic one- or two-minute songs interspersed with atmospheric coda-songs, energy amplifying space. However where Wire seemed invigorated by their philosophy, the Woolen Men paint in gradations of grey, never straying from cynicism and unease, always preoccupied with a formless and unpleasing shape on the horizon line. The Woolen Men may revel in their obscurity, but they might find themselves getting a wider forum than they expected. It’s hard to find weak spots in their minimal post-punk armor. No wasted notes, no wasted ideas, the Woolen Men are operating within parameters that served their idols well.