Arts Desk

The New Old Emo: Meet D.C.’s Monument

It takes about 62 seconds for Monument’s debut to announce itself as an emo record: at the moment when, after an intro of pastoral guitar plucking and feedback that seems to unravel even as it builds to a hissy climax, the song erupts with a messy, angular burst of noise. Then bassist Dan Doggett screams, “What’s the deal? Don’t the kids care anymore?/With all these roots run deep there ain’t nothing.” Only in emo, it seems, does scene biography double as a statement of purpose.

And D.C.’s Monument is an unabashedly emo band: not in the grating, latter-day pop-punk sense, but in the messy, cathartic style of Chicago in the early ’90s, or Seattle a few years after that. There are dramatic crashes and strained vocals and introverted, sometimes obtuse lyrics that deal with issues of everyday life. When the band sings about roots, it’s not hard to think about emo’s origins in D.C., where groups like Rites of Spring birthed the genre in an era when Monument’s members were still in diapers.

Emo, as we’ve come to know it, gets fairly bad press. But Monument is one of a handful of bands across the country that is reimagining the sound by resurrecting something akin to the ’90s version of it. At gigs on the local house-show circuit, Monument can draw 50 or more kids, but sometimes just a handful. That may change soon: The band’s album, Goes Canoeing, has begun earning adulation on a host of punk-focused websites, blogs, and message boards.

The arrival of Goes Canoeing, out last month on the label Tiny Engines, has been a long time coming for the band. The quartet received CD copies of the album last month, a year after it started recording it.

The members come from diverse musical backgrounds: Bassist and vocalist Dan Doggett, now 25, fronted a quirky electronic indie-pop act called the Tasty Habits; guitarist Anton Kropp, 27, played in a host of bands, including a screamo outfit called Dawntreader with drummer Brandon Korch, 26; guitarist and vocalist Gabe Marquez, 24, played in several short-lived groups, including the ’90s emo-inflected Coasts.

About four years ago, Doggett’s Tasty Habits embarked on a weeklong tour that included two shows with Philadelphia’s Algernon Cadwallader, a band that’s become the standard-bearer for the new, old emo sound. “When I came back, that’s when I talked with Gabe about starting a band in a similar vein as them,” says Doggett.

Things came together quickly: By the end of the band’s first practice in a College Park basement (three of the members attended the University of Maryland at the time), it had picked a name and written its first song, “Driftwood.” On Goes Canoeing, the track employs a familiar soft-loud dynamic: verses have an aquatic luster, while the chorus is caterwauling and serrated.

The quartet released a couple of harsh-sounding, self-released demo CDs in late 2007 and early 2008, using hollowed-out floppy discs for CD cases. Doggett mailed a copy of the band’s Monujamz demo to Will Miller, who ran the influential punk blog Sound As Language.

When Monument dropped its first vinyl release, 2009’s 3 Song 7-inch, Miller gave the EP a “Best New Music” tag on his blog. Around the same time, Miller started Tiny Engines. The 7-inch couldn’t have arrived at a better time. “I thought those songs were a giant leap for Monument and really kind of planted the seed that maybe these guys would be a future Tiny Engines band,” Miller says.

Eventually the band retreated to Philadelphia and laid down Goes Canoeing’s 10 tracks at Algernon Cadwallader guitarist Joe Reinhart’s home studio, Headroom, although bits were recorded in Kropp’s Silver Spring apartment. “Every time I’ve ever seen them live, I just got this feeling that they’re a part of something super awesome that’s happening, and I just wanted to be a part of it,” Reinhart says.

But between sessions in November 2009 and May 2010, Monument begin feeling some inertia. Shows became less frequent. “They were in this weird ‘What am I doing’ period,” says Andrew Nichols, a friend of the band.

In April, Nichols and Korch saw the spazzy hardcore band Pissed Jeans at Rock & Roll Hotel, and formed the satirically named Shat Shorts. With Marquez and Kropp in tow, Shat Shorts soon dropped a six-song EP.

It turns out some competition from themselves was what Monument needed. “It definitely got kicked in the ass after Shat Shorts,” Nichols says. A couple months after Shat Shorts dropped an EP, Monument finished Goes Canoeing (the title “reminded me of ...Is Terrified by the Dismemberment Plan, [which] is my favorite band,” says Doggett). The band pressed 500 CD copies while Tiny Engines distributed the record digitally; it’ll release the album on vinyl next year. The band’s written four songs for a follow-up EP, a cassette release it hopes to drop in 2011.

Still, the members haven’t quit their day jobs. “I just wish I had time to go out to shows and didn’t have to get up at six in the morning to iron my work clothes,” says Korch, who works as a paralegal.

Goes Canoeing channels those frustrations, anxieties, highs, and lows: They’re workaday problems brought to epic, but not comically epic, scale. If that’s all it takes for Monument to find early emo’s scrappy catharsis, and if the kids are buying it, then it’s hard to begrudge the group. As for emo’s unmistakable whining, it can sound like an expression of immaturity on Goes Canoeing, but only if you don’t listen closely. The album is mostly centered on a fine-tuned sense of impermanence.

“Eventually, someone’s going to move or something’s going to happen and we can’t do this anymore,” Kropp says. “I mean, like, what are the chances of us being 50-years-old, playing in Monument? Kinda slim. Might as well just have a good time while it’s game.”

LISTEN: Monument – "Diamond Age"

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