Mons La Hire’s interesting experiment falls short

From start to finish, many of the same reoccurring issues are prevalent throughout the album.  The instrumentation ranges from good to great; I genuinely found many of the melodies to be catchy.  The thing that holds the instruments back is the audio mixing that is never sure what it wants to have at the forefront of the track.  Track 6, “Too late”, for example, has a pretty great guitar solo, but the poor audio mixing causes the synth in the background to be awkwardly superimposed over it, making it difficult to be appreciated.  Such flaws may be bearable for some listeners, but the mixing issues become downright unbearable for me once the singing kicks in.

It is my understanding that the vocal performance is meant to resemble something along the lines of Paul Banks from Interpol: purposefully off key singing that allows for raw emotion to seep through to the audience rather than acting as a display of vocal gymnastics.  In attempting something as ambitious as purposefully imperfect vocals, the audio quality would need to be spot on so as not to make the imperfections the center point for each track.  The production has the vocals overly supersede the rest of the instruments, and this problem presents itself in each and every single track.  This is such a shame, as moments like the charming piano chords in Track 1, “Alphabet in Gold” are drowned out by the off-putting vocal.  Vocals that are purposefully a bit off key would be fine if they weren’t so pronounced compared to the rest of the instruments.  The reason that such a vocal style works for the likes of Interpol is because the singing blends perfectly with the guitar, drums and bass for all of their tracks. The tracks on An Ad Hoc System do not coalesce as tidily, and don’t carry enough catchiness to leave me feeling invested in the music.

Another problem with hyper prominent vocals is that every odd choice in lyrical content can be clearly heard, and there are many such choices on this album.  Concept-wise, the idea for the lyrics on the album is strong: paste together a multitude of quotes from various literary works and string them together to make a song.  While I deeply admire the level of effort that must have gone into finding the right quotes to give each track its given structure, the final product demonstrates to me that a collage of random smart lyrics does not necessarily make a smart song.  It’s an interesting project, but the quotes don’t come together to make a worthwhile narrative, and the ideas projected onto the listener come off as disjointed.

I find that a perfect example of this phenomenon occurs in Track 3, “The Stranger”.  One stanza of the song is worded as follows: “you are the stranger / walking by your side at night / An unlit window burnt by the fireflies.”  For those well versed in the works of Ray Bradbury, then congratulations on getting the Fahrenheit 451 reference.  That being said, I’m quite a fan of the novel, and I fail to see how the insertion of such a reference contributes to the themes of the track.  The biggest issue in the lyrics here is the syntax of the verse, which makes no sense at all.  If I am the stranger, then who is walking by my side?  Either the unlit window is walking next to me (which is a very strange metaphor that hasn’t been properly established) or I am somehow walking next to myself: either way, it’s difficult to project an image into the minds of the audience if the image isn’t remotely clear.  Be it references to Fahrenheit 451 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, it’s impossible for me to tell what the message of each track is when the thoughts pieced together have so much weight to them on their own.  The lyrics for each track that are pieced together work in tandem to form a flimsy narrative that ends up trying to form a partial rhyme but only sounding jumbled for the most part.

An Ad Hoc Ecosystem presents well played instrumental segments, but the vocal needs to be more on point and the lyrics need more cohesiveness for them to have any deeper connection to me.  This is all really unfortunate because the piano, guitar, and drums all come together nicely to establish a mellow tone that I enjoy when they are all on their own and have the proper mixing.  I can hear the loud intermedia fans howling “you just don’t get it,” and you know what, maybe that’s true.  That being said, I can’t be intellectually dishonest and create meaning in something that I don’t actually hear.  If you’re capable of drawing a deeper meaning from the lyrics and appreciating the purposefully off key vocals, then it’s honestly great that you can enjoy something that I can’t, and I respect that.  For me though, I can’t give this a album a recommendation, though I still appreciate the effort that went into creating something different.

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1 Response

  1. Daniel Watkins says:

    Hey Adrian, thanks for taking the time to listen to the album. Sorry it didn’t click for you. I’m a bit surprised at the choice of the lyrics in “The Stranger” to criticize, considering how much more bizarre the lyrics are in other songs, such as “Lions in England”. The stanza that you highlight (“You are the stranger / walking by your side at night”) has a simple interpretation – when you walk through a place you used to go a lot, your memories accompany you. People change, and sometimes your past self is almost unrecognizable. The Stranger is the memory of your past.

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