by Nick Hanover
Sincerity can be a dangerous thing in the world of indie rock. In all its permutations and contradicting forms, indie has always been full of young’uns eager to strike ironic poses as they mix up the sounds of their parents’ record collections, rebels who view a break from The Now as a political stance. The scene has had a much smaller population of figures who sincerely carve out their own sound without too much thought for the politics or fashions, but that’s only because as a musical community we’ve got a lot less patience for dorks just doing what they love than we do for disposable fashionistas. So you tend to notice when such figures bravely show their faces, especially when they’re folks like Acey Monaro, people with the emotional scars to prove their sincerity isn’t a gimmick, it’s hard earned.
As wandering troubadour stories go, Monaro’s is tough to beat. Monaro’s bio details an adolescence with such mythmaking milemarkers as dropping out of high school at 14, marrying a man twice her age not long after and then divorcing him at the seven year mark. Any of those elements would leave a decent songwriter with years of material but the collision of all three goes a long way towards explaining how Monaro is able to posses the voice and lyrical wisdom of an artist decades older. There are plenty of songwriters who aspire to sound wizened, but too frequently they fall short, but Monaro’s background is audible in every note she sings and that history allows her passionate, fully sincere lines to resonate more than they would otherwise.
Take “Come Undone,” the breezy ’80s inflected pop song that kicks off her self-titled EP. Built around an electro beat seemingly pillaged from a lost Tiffany single, the song features a dizzying number of chord changes on the way to its chorus, with Monaro’s deep but vulnerable voice hiccuping all the while. It escalates to a pre-chorus that hides the pain of what Monaro has experienced, ultimately climaxing with a chorus structured around the repeated phrase “My life’s come undone.” It’s a simple statement, and one anyone with younger siblings has probably heard once or twice, but there’s a pang of regret to Monaro’s delivery of it that tells your ears this person really means what they say.
“Come Undone” is also a bit of a tease, its electro-pop characteristics suitably at odds with the more classical pop of the rest of the EP. “Cockle Creek,” for instance, mines the same girl group 45s that have inspired every generation of UK outfits from Orange Juice to the Jesus and Mary Chain to Camera Obscura, except the usual romantic ailments detailed in all those seminal indie kid favorites is replaced by a desperate plea to the land itself to just give Monaro and her kin a break already. It’s followed by “Transference,” a swingin’ crooner ditty wed to a country melody that displays the upper reaches of Monaro’s plaintive, haunted voice. And that’s before the spaghetti western horns come in.
The one time the electro-beat comes back, it’s towards the end and it’s in service of “The Trouble I Make,” a guitar song that offers a glimpse at an alternate reality where Neko Case fronted the Replacements. Even though the beautiful, wailing ballad “Raining in Armidale” closes the EP out, “The Trouble I Make” functions as a perfect bookend with “Come Undone,” particularly since the focus has shifted inward as Monaro admits the issues she’s working through tend to make her “colder” towards her partner. Monaro isn’t necessarily apologizing for where she’s come from or where she’s going, but she realizes “Often even I need a break from the person/It seems I have become.” Wisdom doesn’t just mean knowing better than everyone else around you, it also means no longer lying to yourself or others about your nature, of understanding that you are “A pendulum/At the whim of all things.” There’s a confidence in that sentiment and a tranquility. Maybe that’s why sincerity looks so good on Acey Monaro.