Album Review: MonoNeon - Southern Visionary (2013 LP)

MonoNeon, originally Dywane Thomas Jr, is a peculiar burst of sound I’ve come across. What sets him apart from most bassists is rather than simply being an “artist” or a “band” he creates an idea. There’s a whole theology behind his albums and names. I could write an academic essay on his material if I really wanted to. Abstract, index, appendices and all. But I won’t, because I don’t have the time and I’d assume only MonoNeon’s most devout fans would care to read my ramblings. However, I do have the time to listen to his latest album Southern Visionary. The title seems a bit narcissistic for the young artist but he does have the skills to back it up.

“MicroOrangeMound” doesn’t hesitate to introduce us to the strange as the first track. Very slow with some out of tune piano twinkling over the top, it’s unusual but hypnotizing.

He doesn’t pace himself either in getting to the title track. “Southern Visionary” has an almost underwater quality in the background noise to this track’s production. The bass is the focus and the plucking does demonstrate MonoNeon’s skill but it’s all too slow. This is certainly background music for an indie café or snobby coffee shop.

But things get weirder still. “Eddie Kang (with AM Radio noise) is our first taste of MonoNeon’s idea to create experimental Radio Art. The vocals are lazy, disorganized but it works in an inexplicable way. The tune is there but the track gets repetitive.

There’s some word play jumping from MonoNeon to the song title “Micro-Neon”. This one is catchy enough to stay interested. This song is all about the slap bass and it sounds great. “Micro-School Walk” on the other hand feels very 80s. Some peculiar sound manipulation here with the bass undertones chugging along. “Micro-JonnayTaylor” follows suit with what feels like an untuned bass guitar.

“Micro-StapleSangus” and “Micro-Dilettante” continues the Micro series with similar sounds and tweaked rhythms until “Elleeot Carter” breaks the chain. It leans more towards sound samples accompanying MonoNeon’s riffing.

The Micro theme returns with “Micro-Memphis”, a fun one, and “MicroJamesCarr” which slides back into a sad waltz. You begin to notice MonoNeon is trying to link together a message with these titles. Each song is really an extension of the prior.

“Hannah Hoch Visits Orange Mound (feat. Jake Sherman) takes a completely different twist. Sound samples, synths, warped voices and experimental scifi themes galore. “The Noise Story (feat. Noise by Memphis school kids)” on the other hand is exactly as the title implies.

“Nude Descending A Front Porch (feat. Info Melle Weljters)” brings back the retro with a stomping pulse. I feel like a Daft Punk video should accompany this one. Then a switch is flipped and a militant drum beat plays from “Neon Dirge”. Again, MonoNeon seems to have a penchant for repetition and recurring themes. “Nude Descending “A Front Porch (feat. Jake Sherman)” comes in with xylophonic overtones this time.

I struggled to see the creative genius in “Rene Ma-Sugar-Grittes (feat. Michael Vick)” It sounded promising as a more salsa-oriented track but descends into something too experimental for my tastes.

Likewise “The Noise Story (feat. Grandma Liz)” and “Der Neon Relter (feat. Zach Curley)” feels like I’ve stepped into some surreal private conversation and I’m not welcome.

Southern Visionary ends with the last of the noise; “The Noise Story (feat. Lil’ Curtis, Chris, Info Kirby & Junior)” The conversations are layered and more notably real, but the dismal sound track in the background ends the album on a lamenting note.

MonoNeon’s album isn’t something to dance to, or listen to actually. It’s something to think to. This is sound art, more so than music. The album is a collaborative with microtonal musicians, as hinted at with the titles. It certainly isn’t something I can tread through with a hangover. But if you have the brain cells and the motivation to enjoy his creation Southern Visionary is accessible on his bandcamp now.

Review Score: 6.0 out of 10