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It’s unfortunate that laser shows are associated almost exclusively with Pink Floyd and marijuana because, to me, they are the ideal environment for hearing new music. Even to the most studious reviewer it's difficult to listen to an album or attend a show entirely free of distractions. I listen to CDs I’m reviewing in my car when I drive to work or riding on the bus, but making sure I get to my destination safely is of greater importance than chord progressions and lyrics; when I go to shows (which I do often), the crowd can sway your enjoyment one way or the other.
When you witness a laser show, those distractions are erased. Traffic, telephones, and that asshole shouting “Freebird” after every song are removed from the equation entirely. It really is a symbiotic relationship between the listener and the music itself.
Psychedelic Tacoma band Mono in VCF realizes this (and so have Minus the Bear, Plan B, Jennifer Gentle, the Divorce, and Sleater-Kinney – all of whom have had “one night only” laser shows at the Pacific Science Center over the past few years). The band chose to celebrate the release of their debut, self-titled album this way and it made for a unique and memorable experience.
Mono in VCF begins with Syd Barrett-like “Escape City Scrapers,” a sweeping, epic pop song that set the mood perfectly for the evening. When lead vocalist Kim Miller sings over the spacey instrumentation, “I feel jailed inside this concrete, my mind escapes from me” it's easy to forget your location and imagine that you’re living inside of the four-minute song.
Mono in VCF liberally uses strings that complete the arrangements and the darkness of the room only brought out the sound of those instruments. I might have otherwise missed them if I heard the album for the first time on the earbuds on my iPod. Yet, there they were in songs like “Masha” and “Chanteuse,” nicely complimenting the guitar parts and harmonies.
I hate to keep drawing the comparisons to Pink Floyd because they seem to easy with this being a laser show, but the influence is really obvious on this record, in all the right ways. “The Only One,” with its dark lyrics and piano and string parts sounds like it belongs on The Dark Side of the Moon and “There’s No Blood In Bones” is the closest thing to a dance-pop song you’ll ever hear, quite a bit like when the Scissor Sisters covered “Comfortably Numb,” if you will.
The songs flow freely to the next one both lyrically and musically. While the lasers were never overt with the symbolism, the cohesion of the record thrives in that environment. When the show was over, band members handed out small cards that included a URL to download a ZIP file of the entire album (which I don’t think has a release date as of yet and the band’s MySpace page says “2008”). I don’t know yet if the album is one I will want to keep coming back to, but that's mostly because of my own biases and my inability to recreate the laser dome experience at home. I would not, however, be opposed to playing Mono in VCF over a muted screening of Donnie Darko and just seeing what happens.