2004- Monarch – The Grandeur that was Rome (released in 2004)

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As I scoured various internet music message boards, I stumbled across a board where the posters were discussing an album by a band called All Things Bright and Beautiful. The albums sounded like one I’d enjoy, so I clicked over the the record label site to purchase it. The label was called Northern Records and it was founded by former members of the Christian alt-rock band The Prayer Chain. When I landed on the sites main page, I was greeted with a short flash animation featuring some awesome music. The strip at the bottom of the window stated that the music was by a band called Monarch. I knew I had to get my hands on that album along with the All Things Bright and Beautiful album, but I found that Monarch hadn’t been released yet. I ordered the ATB&B album and waited in eager anticipation for the Monarch album to release. When it finally did, I ordered a copy straight away. 

The Grandeur That Was Rome is a stellar album. Synths, loops, guitars and effects are the backdrop for the soaring vocals of frontman Brennan Strawn. The album is drenched in reverb giving it a very atmospheric sound. Clearly the band was influenced by Sigur Ros and other post-rock bands of that ilk. Strawn’s vocals the real stunner here. His strong tenor and high falsetto anchor each song perfectly. The song that I heard on the Northern Records site, “Tracing Paper (An Argument)”, begins with jittery drums and a choral sample that chills the listener before launching into the body of the song (which is 8 minutes long). My favorite song on the album is “Turn Around”, a pop gem with a soaring chorus melody that could easily find a home on the radio dial. The lyrics often sound like individual lines pulled from a script, giving the impression that Strawn is drawing from his own experiences while only telling us part of the story, content to leave the interpretation open to the listener. 

Following this album, the band actually broke up, leaving only Strawn to carry on the moniker. He has since recruited a few other musicians into the reincarnation of the band. A second album was released a couple years ago called Lowly and featured more of the orchestral arrangements and soaring vocals Strawn does so well. 

The serendipitous way that I discovered this album makes it special to me. I followed the trail of a different band and connected the dots through a record label. I’ve bought a number of other albums from Northern Records and been quite pleased with each of them. I like it when a label has it’s own identity and earns the trust of music fans by releasing albums that are consistently good. Asthmatic Kitty is a label that I trust, as is Northern. What record labels do you look to for good music?

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