Though The Ex-Monkeys' combination of electronic samplers and electric guitar in propulsive, rock-like themes is relatively isolated in the Triangle, the music of Ian Shannon and Ed Winstead—who explored similar territory together in the '90s in trio form as Friend Side Monkey—aren't new in any sort of national or international context. With similarities to the work Brian Eno did with members of Cluster in the '70s, the anthemic cutting-and-building strategies of DJ Shadow into the '00s and, more recently and popularly, the shambolic but sometimes charming beats of New York's Ratatat, The Ex-Monkeys aren't breaking ground, even if they don't sound like your neighbor's rock 'n' roll band.
Of course, if your neighbor's garage band proves anything, it's that a band's music doesn't have to sound new to sound fresh: The five tracks of Being Human—and (spoiler alert) a playful cover of Devo's "Big Mess" tacked on as a hidden number—bound with esprit and enthusiasm. But, while Winstead and Shannon play with the energy of kids who've just discovered this sort of music, they arrange with the expertise of veterans. Notice the way "Bangers" stutters at the start, reaching for a groove just to have it slip past. They let it all evaporate into an atmospheric wash and capitalize on the bait-and-switch, coming back with twice the steam.
"Detour" opens with a serial whir of sound that suggests a mechanized sarod. A boom-bap beat and serrated guitar push it forward, emptying into a stretch that pits disparate ideas—a down-tempo skip and a funky bass bit—against a wash of turntablism and mercurial whirs. It builds back into that beginning sound, showcasing a sense of linear arrangement that The Ex-Monkeys exploit to cinematic, triumphant effect. Similiarly, "Twelve" oscillates between a trance-like haze and a driving anxiety. The band funnels it all into an outro of sampled voices battling against a wash of white noise above a rush of clicks and beats. It all burns away in a bejeweled din, exhausted and exhilarated.
The Ex-Monkeys play MarVell Event Center Thursday, Aug. 6, in Durham with Cheezface, Wretched Martyr and Shiragirl at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5.