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"Monthly Journal"

Thomas Truax – Monthly Journal
06 February 2012, 07:57 Written by Andy Johnson

In retrospect it was perhaps inevitable that Thomas Truax would one day start his own song-a-month project. As just another singer-songwriter in the crowded ’90s New York scene, the former Celebrity Deathmatch animator needed to separate himself from the pack: several self-invented instruments later, he has become a seasoned and innovative outsider musician always on the lookout for new sources of exposure. Sadly, Monthly Journal proves to be an experiment too far for Truax – by largely neglecting his true talents in favour of a restrictive formula which exposes gaping cracks in his skills, the project has resulted in a depressingly drab LP which does its creator a disservice.

Presented together as an album, it’s clear that the songs of Monthly Journal “expose” Truax in more ways than he might have liked. The freak-folk inventor could never have guessed that the year he planned to chronicle through song would turn into one of loss; March saw the loss of his father, June the loss of a long-term relationship and October the loss of his right to live in the UK. Understandably, the lyrics don’t fully engage with these traumatic events, and instead the emphasis is on the briefest name-checking of passing events – the royal wedding, the London riots, the weather. It is understandable, but it adds to the overwhelming sense that Monthly Journal is slight and disposable.

Truax is further exposed by his decision to lean much less heavily on his wonderful homemade noisemakers. While gramophone-turned-instrument the Hornicator and an array of mechanical drum machines do make occasional appearances – as on the moderately successful ‘August Moon’ – the focus on more traditional instrumentation throws Truax’s singing and songwriting into stark relief. The combination of this and the tight time restrictions of finishing a song each month is nothing short of devastating to the quality of the tunes. Generally plodding and leaden, the bulk of the songs tread one weary melodic path from start to end, denying Truax the spontaneity that make his shows so enjoyable. It is a bleak prospect.

There are a few gems to be pulled from the rubble. The surreal spoken monologue and skittering drums of ‘January Egg Race Dream’ have something of the old Truax about them for example, while the long instrumental section of ‘November in Berlin’ ekes something good out of the new instrumental approach. Ultimately however, Monthly Journal is a graphic example of how badly a song-a-month project can go, as well as a reminder that Thomas Truax is at his best in New York mode: when he takes the time to focus on those things that make him unique.

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