Album Review | MonoNeon's Living the Best and Worst Life at the Same Damn Time

Words by Brad Yeakel (Opti Mystic Outlooks)

MonoNeon (Dywane Thomas Jr.) is an extraordinary bass player, composer, collaborator and freak of nature. He is, by most accounts, aloof, bizarre, and brilliant. He’s crafted a persona that adds to his mystique and intrigue.

Mono’s latest effort is an awkward, yet fluid snapshot of his influences, ambitions, and musical direction. The vibes are reminiscent of Prince, Sly, Kendrick, and PFunk, while the composition brings in elements of Frank Zappa, Al Di Meola, and more. The way he uses his bass as the melodic keystone of his ensemble is fairly unique, though not unprecedented.

The indelible mark that Prince left on MonoNeon is reflected in his phrasing, rhythmic concepts, and odd lyrical content. The album begins with the title track, and chugs along with the janky consistency of a printing press rolling paper. The industrial repetition creates a steady propulsion that’s constantly fighting the syncopated dips and lags. The combined effect holds you in a state that defies the rules of groove while dropping grooves that rule.

“Lifting My Hands to the Sky,” has a cool patience with a frantic counterpart. The latter, a barrage of notes from arcade synthesizers and 8-bit samples. Once again, the sum total left me visualizing dance pods bathed in colorful LED saturated, futuristic, tech-funk... robotic, alien, and smoother than a road in Venice.

“MYPA (Masturbate Your Problems Away)” begins with a rambling, semi-coherent, borderline vagrant-sounding rant about jerktherapy. While the intro to the song made my mother-in-law clutch her purse, the song eventually gains steam and is satisfying (if only for a few moments). This song really highlights the contrast between musical virtuosity and eccentric creativity in the weirdest of ways. I find myself baffled and agitated that I spent the past week mentally singing “masturbate your problems away,” as if it were a new Beck single.

“Can We Start Over: Unblock My Number,” has the universal appeal of a Childish Gambino tune, but veers towards Thundercat creatively. From fluid synths, to wet bass, and crisp drums, this song has mainstream sensibilities and jazz nuance. This is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

“I’m a Raggedy Bitch, but My Heart is Amazing,” won me over... my favorite track in this bizarre and innovative collection. There is so much about this song that exemplifies MonoNeon’s talent. The lyrics are predictably strange, yet undeniably relatable. The song acknowledges that human fallibility does not detract from humanity. It spans this unusual landscape while maintaining cuts as funky as the Family Stone.

“Your Life is Wild, Keep Smiling,” serves as an affirmation in the midst of what ultimately reveals itself as a loosely based concept album about depression and coping skills. While Mono’s playing and jovial lyrical approach seem far less serious than the jazz-level compositions contained within, his craft is obviously one that has been honed for many years.

“Holding My Breath, Counting to Ten,” floats in the realm of 70’s Thai funk. Khruangbin had a meteoric year in 2019, playing a similarly relaxed retro-vibe funk. This occupies the same musical space.

“Don’t Get Drunk, Believe in Yourself,” serves as a nice cap. It embraces the absurdity of MonoNeon’s lyrical content while providing a final affirmation to end the album and concept on a positive note. The song glides ahead in an unassuming way, floating in and drifting away like a dream.

On the whole, Living the Best and Worst Life at the Same Damn Time was consistent with the rest of MonoNeon’s output. As with everything else, his quirky, unusual, and provocative style leaves you scratching your head while it’s masterful compositions and exemplary playing balances everything out. The album took me several listens to digest, but left me with a bunch of ear worms ravaging my brain in search of context. Just the way MonoNeon wants it.


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