The Woolen Men, ‘Temporary Monuments’

Posted by on September 7, 2015


Woodsist, 9.4.2015

The Woolen Men are a band out of time. Based in the Portland, Oregon of Fred Armisen rather than that of Greg Sage, the band is soaked in the same weird waters that dripped from Dead Moon, the Wipers, and Poison Idea. The band has often felt overlooked despite an excellent 2012 debut on Woodsist and numerous small-run releases that prove their willingness to take production and distribution into their own hands. One would think that a culture obsessed with authenticity and nostalgia should be eager for what the Woolen Men have to offer: the band personifies hand-stapled mimeograph fanzines and photocopied show fliers in an age of digital ephemera and splintered communication. Indeed, my sole interaction with the band to date feels ripped from the pages of Forced Exposure, as my request for an advance copy of their record elicited a warm, Steve Albini-like response that involved a hail of personal insults and accusations of extortion. (It turned out to be a hilarious, ridiculous misunderstanding.) It’s a confusing time to be a real — and really odd — punk band.

Temporary Monument is the Woolen Men’s first studio full-length since 2012, and contains many tunes that the group has honed at live shows during the interim. Playing in a changing landscape that now favors condos over venues in which they can perform, the band has said they made this album “for themselves” and there’s a dark shadow of dissolution and displacement that’s cast over it. It’s also the band’s tightest collection yet, one that funnels the nervy energy of the Urinals, Volcano Suns, and the Embarrassment through a narrow exit into the present.

The group wastes no time or space, as the album packs twelve songs into a tidy 31 minutes. “Clean Dreams” kicks things off with skittering guitar and a vocal lament of high-rises and alienation that keens somewhere between Mark Mothersbaugh and Mark E. Smith. The same estranged flailing fills songs like “Life in Hell” (“Maybe someday we’ll meet again in a different life / Then we’ll both know what to do”), “Alien City”, and “The Dissolving Man.” The tunes veer between deliberate and frantic, as carefully considered songs become embroiled in the group’s simmering frustration. The album’s title track rues the fleeting nature of the things people create, the hard-earned efforts that are intended to last but seldom do.

Temporary Monument also has lovely, tender moments — the melancholy “On Cowardice” has an earworm chorus I haven’t been able to shake, and includes one of my favorite couplets in recent memory (“Spalding Gray, please don’t go away/ tell stories again and again and again”). “After the Flood” brings organ into the mix for a similarly downer vibe of regret and no turning back. The album closer “Walking Out” taps the same wistful vein as the Chill’s “Pink Frost” and the Clean’s “Getting Older,” which is a delight.

In the end, the record is a requiem for the city they called home and a critique of our increasingly transitory culture. The Woolen Men have seen a future in which music evaporates rather than collects dust, and are throwing their bodies on the gears of the machine. Part of the group’s brilliance is their ability to channel peculiar musical relics of the ‘80s into something that sounds fresh in 2015. With any luck, in thirty years there will be copies of Temporary Monument kicking around for the same reason.