Local Record Review: 'This Is a Protest Album' by the Sky Catching Fire

The Sky Catching Fire
This Is a Protest Album

Laguna Beach's Thomas Monroe is, if nothing else, a passionate fellow. Also a prolific one--This Is a Protest Album is his fifth album via the name the Sky Catching Fire in two years' time, a pretty good clip by any measure.

The title is no hyperbole, either--it is, indeed, a protest album, a mix of some metaphors and a lot more to-the-quick statements. The Dylanisms throughout are clear enough; Monroe freely admits to it on his band's Reverbnation site, and while Monroe constructs a number of full-band arrangements via his home-recording setup, the center of everything remains Monroe's high vocals and acoustic guitar.

In the direct earnestness of the sentiments, though, it's less Dylan's knowing, humorously cryptic stance and more something like the earliest Against Me! releases or, more locally, the long gone Inside Out. It's the kind of approach that constantly teeters on the edge of sounding either over the top--"Talking Mother Earth Blues" makes the Five Man Electrical Band's classic rock nugget "Signs" seem astoundingly subtle--or incredibly uncomfortable to hear, which may well be the intent in the first place.

And yet, from the sheer rage in the words of "Anti-Hate Crime" and "Bullies," promising cathartic violence to bigots, to the get-off-the-Internet, I'll-meet-you-in-the-street thoughts of "Convenience Kills," the whole impact of This Is a Protest Album feels a bit rote, almost what one would expect to hear, unlikely to reach beyond those already inclined to acknowledge the world's self-evidently brutal unfairness.

It's probably appropriate, then, that the most effective moments describe that state rather than simply aim to create new anthems for a sad time. "Cleveland," thanks to its calm arrangement and Monroe aiming for a more descriptive vision of a beaten-down city, might be the highlight of the album for that reason--and a realization that not all questions have easy answers.

This Is a Protest Album can be purchased via iTunes and via www.reverbnation.com/theskycatchingfire.


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