No one wants to be forgotten; everyone wants some sort of legacy, a mark they leave behind as they exit this life for whatever lies beyond.
And for as long as there has been death, there have been monuments — whether austere or understated, abstract or concrete, prominent or tucked away in private — erected by the ones they loved to assure that remembrance, at least for a time.
In some ways, Monuments will be just that one day for Grant Provence, the man behind Oklahoma City alternative project Manmade Objects. But the six-song effort doesn’t sound so much like the cold piece of stone or treasured keepsake left behind as the fuzzy, ambiguous idea behind it. It’s overtly supernatural, a lovingly muddled batch of spooky psych-pop connections with barely more than the whites of its toenails left on the ground below.
It aims to be the sort of sprawling record that exists in a gaseous state, capable of being bottled up but prone to scattering outward — a moderately demanding but ultimately rewarding listen. Monuments is a heady, sophisticated piece of sonic architecture, but its comely melodies provide just enough of an anchor point to keep the relaxed structure from wafting away.
The album comes three years after Manmade Objects’ self-titled debut EP and a couple removed even from live shows, but if there is any rust, Provence either shook it off or wears it well. As blurred and opaque as the record is designed to be, it’s a credit to the production at Hook Echo Sound and mastering by Heba Kadry (Future Islands, The Mars Volta) that the end product is more purposefully lo-fi than shiftless — no small feat for albums of this nature.
Provence sets borders on each song, but they are placed far and wide with a vast desert to wander through. The fence posts are most accurately staked apart in opener “Citizen,” a moody but distant, rock-skewed shoegaze track that plays out like The Horrors trudging through a bog of quicksand. It’s maybe the only offering boasting much anything resembling a true hook — albeit drawn out and elongated — and “Citizen” is Manmade Objects at its most accessible and tactile.
Things go darker, drearier, hypnotic and cyclical from there, all properties that act as both detriments and merits to the album at various points, adding to both the invigorating sense of aural wanderlust and occasional aimlessness.
“Here Lies” is built on a polite but effective little guitar riff, but it’s repeated to the point where its blade is dulled. “Invest” shares that character, but there’s just enough movement in the background to avoid a similar fate, instead posing as one of the album’s emotional bright spots.
“Ballad of the Astronauts” sounds exactly like the title suggests, an eerily calm drift through an endless universe of sky with the occasional blinking satellite or shooting star. “Volcanic Hands” carries that aesthetic forward while bringing the album to a resolute, cohesive close.
Monuments leaves you not with specifics — no catchy chorus to hum or notes to sing in the shower — but a body-swallowing mood that lingers well after its final moments. It’s an album intended to be felt as much as heard.