Occasionally a band comes along that I want to champion not only because of their musical ability, but for their unique bright-spot sensibilities in a radio-wasteland of cookie-cutter sameness. It’s the drive for originality that’s keeping the music scene relevant at all, and with their somewhat viral music video filmed entirely in a Honda, Monsters Calling Home caught even more attention with a surprise gig at Jimmy Kimmel Live (and that one’s officially viral with over a million views). It was quite moving to see the reaction of an unknown indie band given the best gig of their career — performing a song that’s actually plain good — and I immediately purchased their EP album.
Monsters Calling Home derives their name from being Asian-Americans: they neither feel home in the states or in Asia, instead much like wandering monsters look for a place to call home. This subtle commentary will be instantly relatable to millions of second-generation citizens who are not so much experiencing the racism of the former century, but fighting an inner-battle of seeking home in a culturally confused era. But you know, the struggle for home is not merely within races, but in the human race: the all-Asian flavor only adds the exclamation point.
As opposed to a Christian band, they are a band of Christians; they are more J.R.R. Tolkien than C.S. Lewis, using broad strokes of spirituality and gritty real life instead of obvious allegories, similar to Mumford and Sons. They include their spiritual struggles rather than being informed by them, which actually strengthens their sound. There’s no tricky balancing act between Christian and mainstream — the band is unashamedly themselves, and I can only hope they remain this grounded.
The EP, six songs long, is an interesting mash of indie rock with a hint of the Beatles, Beach Boys, the aforementioned Mumford, and folk. They have lovingly called it “Gangster Folk Oriental.” Some will love it, some will hate it, but from the first track they discard pretentiousness by their shiny unwrapped sincerity. If you despise all things indie, you might want to expand your musical taste starting here.
It goes without saying that you will find zero K-Pop influence. Monsters Calling Home stands to break the public opinion of Oppa Gangnam Style’s hyper-stylized regression of Asianized Pseudo-Culture, which has both embraced mainstream while reinforcing frustrating stereotypes. Alex Hwang’s haunting vocals (not an original phrase, I know) is the furthest thing from glamorized Asian boy bands and cheap-imitation R&B, and as a fellow Korean, I am absolutely relieved we are removing ourselves from that ghetto pigeonhole. You could accuse the lyrical make-up here of being “generic white,” or perhaps we’re entering a world where race no longer boxes us into a musical genre. Finally.
Rather than pick apart each song, I can tell you: the experience as a whole is worth the six dollars to pick this up on iTunes. From the rather interesting lyrics of a mother passing out from singing about Jesus to the melancholy cover of The Killers’ Mr. Brightside to the cheerful, energetic “Fight To Keep,” you’ll have this album on repeat.
*Edit: The band has changed their name to Run River North, and their album is here.
If I simply rallied for a new band as a charity service to them, especially an Asian-Christian-American band, it would be a biased disingenuous gesture of pity. There are plenty of Koreans out there doing the same, and I can’t get behind them just because “it’s another Asian with a tiny hint of talent.” But no: Monsters Calling Home do make good music, deserved their gracious turn on Jimmy Kimmel, and could be poised to break an elusively difficult stereotypical mold. I eagerly await their full length album, to both support them and enjoy them. Here’s to more good music and to staying true to our roots: not only as Asians or Christians, but as fellow human beings.