Quitter – Monument Road: Album Review

Atmospheric and poetic lo-fi musings from Scotland’s indie experimentalist, Quitter.

Release Date:  22nd September 2023

Label: Heavenly Creature/ Gold Mold Records

Formats: Vinyl, Download

Hailing from somewhere in that slice of hinterland that lies between Stirling and Glasgow, Quitter in the nom-de-la-créativité of Kenny Bates, and his new album, Monument Road is a fascinating lo-fi collage of indie pop, psychedelia and high-quality homespun poetry.  Quitter takes his musical cues from the US indie scene – outfits such as American Football, Pavement and Jason Molina’s Songs: Ohia have been formative influences – and Monument Road is his second full length album.

I’ve come across plenty of recordings that proudly claim the right to wear the lo-fi badge, but, believe me, Monument Road is the real thing.  Recorded at Bannockburn House in Stirling by Stevie Crossar, it’s an album that emblazons its lo-fi credentials in vivid glittery letters for all to see.  Carefully layered drum machines, precision mic’d hallways mixed with guitars and vocals that have been passed through 4-track cassette machines achieve sounds that are the very epitome of lo-fi; and, yet, that’s only part of the story…  Monument Road also features live band recordings with a richness of sound that complements, rather than clashes with, the lo-fi experimentation.

Monument Road will be a rewarding listen for anyone prepared to savour and peel back the layers of distortion to discover, absorb and be absorbed by Quitter’s adept and ambitious guitar work and his poetic, observational, lyricism.  Of the album, its naming and its lengthy gestation, Quitter has this to say: “A road is a pretty tried-and-tested allegory for life, and for me, when I entered my thirties, I started feeling the accumulation of memories and time more accurately, and how life’s great conversations/ nights/ mornings/ mistakes/ flukes/ discoveries/ people/ places are what gives you that sense of time and brings you to this point exactly.  I feel like we build monuments to these things along the road of life and sort of walk up and down in their shadow.  I’ve tried to represent the monuments I’ve built, here, in this set of songs – some standing tall, others half-built, many of them regularly revisited.  All lovingly set in line on either side of this road.”

Lead single, Penny Drop gets Monument Road underway and, in more ways than one, it epitomizes what Monument Road is, and is all about.  A twisty, windy guitar lick and a simple percussive track almost overwhelm Quitter’s self-conscious vocal – it all sounds pretty straightforward.  That is, until you realise that, beneath that simple exterior, there’s actually a lot to discover – either in lyrics like: “I guess I’m scared of walking all these streets filled with dark gable ends, where the sun only emerges out from behind clouds with half an hour till it sets,” or in the collage of sound that Quitter manages to pack into that seemingly sparse backing.  And that’s a pattern that’s repeated over and over during the course of the album.

Second single, Hey Useless, is an early album highlight.  With its chugging guitar, decorated in fuzzy overtones, it reminds me a bit of Marquee Moon, whilst Quitter’s delivery of lyrics like: “A tall double scoop of hindsight was kind enough to tell me that I was just getting to choose what one I drop on my t-shirt” could have been lifted from Elvis Costello at his My Aim is True peak.

The distorted guitars and persistently rhythmic drums of Open Sesame even make the speakers on the brand new sound system I bought yesterday for my computer sound like they’ve been slashed, yet, look a little deeper, and there’s a melody lurking, before the sound gets immeasurably cleaner for the quasi-psychedelic Golden.  Quitter is a fine guitarist and he seems to make a specialty of the mellow psychedelic sounds that Hendrix achieved on songs like Bold as Love and Castles Made of Sand.

Quitter – aka Kenny Bates [pic: Audrey Bizouerne]

And it’s that mellow Hendrix-inspired guitar sound that features also on the dreamy Polygraph.  Lysergic lyrics like: “My perspective made the hall taper, to where damp had started to render simulacra in the wallpaper” contrast sharply with a tune that is remarkably poppy.  Quitter’s guitar skills are on display again in the slow, ponderous, Phone Voice, particularly during the second half of the track, once the vocalizing is over, when the full-band sound is impressively rich.

The epic So Far So What is, perhaps, the album’s centrepiece.  Crashing distortion gradually gives way to an elaborate and absorbing guitar passage which holds the listener’s attention despite the almost complete absence any fancy effects.  And those sonic explorations make the powerful, rocky Heavy Weather sound almost tame by comparison.  But don’t be deceived – it’s an immensely satisfying song, with lyrics that are amongst the most surreal on the entire album.

The bendy guitar sound that only be achieved from tinkering with a cassette recording leads into the pleading Sword Fights, a song that is characterized by a percussion track that is, initially, disconnected and, ultimately, dominant, before things get altogether cleaner and more conventional for I’ve Walked This Dance Before.  On an album packed with surreal, visionary and thought-provoking lyrics, the opening verse of the song: “I’ve walked this dance before, made a note of the steps and then hid it; it’s the one that the band save for last – we groan, then they did it” is almost accessible, whilst the chiming guitars, resonant bass and tasteful drum fills provide the album’s closest approach to conventional pop.

And, finally, the attachment to lo-fi sound is totally abandoned for the album’s wistful title track.  Quitter’s voice is clear, the lyrics are discernable and the guitars are restrained in a sad observation of loneliness.  Monument Road isn’t an album with universal appeal, but those willing to listen will find lasting surprises and unexpected delights hidden within its grooves.

Monument Road will be released on a run of 200 black vinyl records and the package includes a printed card inner sleeve with lyrics and photographs.  Pre-ordered albums (available here) come complete with exclusive stickers and an exclusive hand-numbered, 16-page A5 colour magazine featuring album liner notes, collage, lyrics, poetry, photographs and passages of stream-of-consciousness writings.

And, if you’re around, why not pop down to the Glad Café on Pollockshaws Road in Shawlands, Glasgow, on the evening of 22nd September, when Quitter will launching Monument Road at a special show.

Watch the official video to Hey, Useless – the album’s latest single – here:

Quitter online: Website / Facebook / Instagram / Bandcamp / YouTube

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