Album Review: 85 Decibel Monks – Pool Cues

85 Decibel Monks
85 Decibel Monks’s Tack-Fu and Grover Beats. — photo courtesy of Tack Fu

85 Decibel Monks

Pool Cues

85 Decibel Monks is the Iowa City-based duo of Tack-Fu and Grover Beats. Their newest release, Pool Cues, is a 29-track instrumental odyssey with the cool, light, jazz vibe of chilling with a martini at an upscale lounge or are relaxing on a yacht in Monaco. The third track, “Loopy Parts,” features electronic piano lines with live horns and drums, and this combination of live and electronic elements continues throughout the entire album, adding to the very light, buoyant feeling; Pool Cues definitely has a head-nodding vibe that the Monks seem to be looking for.

But don’t get the impression that this album is one-note: Pool Cues does a good job of varying its moods. While all of the tracks are mellow—the band keeps the music around 3/4 time—there are a few like “Toast Crunch” that are more uptempo, featuring urgent drum beats, frenetic piano lines and a lively bass line. This particular track also features Pete Balestrieri whose free jazz sax skronk adds the chaos and confusion that makes the song one of my favorites on the album. In addition to this track’s free jazziness, there are elements of hip hop, funk and soul scattered throughout the album, recalling the somewhat-forgotten genre of acid jazz.

But Pool Cues creates some problems for me as a listener. Upon first listening, I thought that this album was from back in the early 2000s because of its acid-jazz tendencies and sonic similarity to Thievery Corporation. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does make the album sound unnecessarily dated.

While the changing moods are a positive, the primary issue that I have with this album is that it doesn’t quite have enough body. Many of the tracks need extra textural elements to elevate them into the realm where they can work both as pleasant background music and as interesting headphone listening. Whether the missing element is a singer, more instrumentation or different percussion, adding texture would be welcome as the tracks end up a bit flat when you hear the same primary musical components (drum kit, electric piano, bass) again and again with little variation. The current tracks are not bad, but with additional elements used judiciously throughout, they could have really stood up on their own much better.