Any study in electro-punk almost inherently includes talk of big beat. A '90s-born subset of electronica, the latter communicates a slick but aggressive action-hero immediacy; think of The Matrix soundtrack, particularly that memorable Propellerheads track. Like that film's other dominant characteristic—bullet time—big beat turned the gee-whiz factor of computer-bent reality into something psychedelic. To wit, this relentless, electro-percussive style mixes nicely with noisy, distorted guitars.
The ExMonkeys' latest, Use Your Tools, is built with this urgent aesthetic in mind, so it comes out quick and dirty like a rock 'n' roll record. The 37-minute album is more Chemical Brothers than Dust Brothers, though DJ Ed Winstead and MC Ian Shannon reflect both the low-end physicality of the former and the broad pallete of the latter. Some tunes are named like party shouts ("Up and Get It") and some lean in a decidedly rave-punk direction (the robo-voiced "Mr. Technology").
Though it doesn't break the two-minute mark, "Morning" is the most compelling track here, with a set of conflicting breakbeats and fuzzed-to-death guitar drops set within an oddly airy framework that hints at Squarepusher. The ExMonkeys are full of such surprises: On "Up and Get It," Winstead battle-scratches against bouncing synth bass, and "Strawberry" brings cacophonic, digitalized guitar noise to pummeling production that flirts with staccato industrial hits. The guitar-heavy "On the Mark" implies a tougher take of The Crystal Method's "Trip Like I Do." Yes, this is bass worth thumping.
While there's no substitute for a high-volume live set, ExMonkeys' percussive physicality translates nicely to headphones and car stereos. And with Winstead now an ex-ExMonkey, it will probably be months before MC Shannon breaks out a solo live set. Until then, the body rock is strong on Use Your Tools.