With her song “High Enough” going platinum in 2022, K. Flay attempted to one-up that project with her mid-September release of “MONO.” The main topic she dove into is her recent hearing loss, where her internal struggles due to the onset of her condition inspired the album. K. Flay’s subject matter is extremely dark — arguably more so than her previous albums in her discography — and pushes the boundaries between self-expression and trauma dumping. Although each song displayed the extensive emotional turmoil the artist experienced, there were many moments in which these raw emotions took hold of the album’s direction and steered it completely off-course.
As seen in previous albums, such as “Every Where Is Some Where,” K. Flay incorporated both alternative pop and rock components into each piece. On her latest release, the pop influence is palpable, namely on “Bar Soap” and “In America,” where the catchy instrumentals tied with the simple, easy to sing along to lyric style created such an earworm. There were countless moments throughout the day in which I would sporadically begin singing the choruses, before realizing that it was the infectious work of K. Flay.
On the opposite side of the alternative spectrum, “Raw Raw” and “Irish Goodbye” are pieces that hit heavy on the rock genre. There was a constant, pervading bassline that flowed wonderfully through a majority of the album’s songs and fully emphasized K. Flay’s motives behind the album: emotion. Similarly to how rock music as a genre takes on this powerful and unabashed feel, the contents of “MONO” are just as unfiltered. There was virtually no shame present, and the words she spoke were full of passion as she sang in retaliation to her body’s abrupt change.
With the chunky, aggressive bassline that pressed on through each song, so too does this “ringing noise” in the ending portions of select songs. Listening to this piece with headphones is key to fully interpreting K. Flay’s message, as this obnoxious high-pitched tone would play on only the right side of the listener’s headphones, signifying the foreboding hearing loss she must now face every day. Just as the artist must grapple with this newfound issue, the listener must also be subjected to this ear-splitting noise as a reminder of the album’s title, “MONO.”
Emotion is a great mode of individualism, yet it muddied the waters in the case of this piece. “MONO” was so disordered at times that it took away from any sort of enjoyment. Drastically different from previous work, K. Flay intertwined her angelic choruses with these dreadful “rap” verses which demoted the quality of the album greatly. This spoken word she attempted in the majority of the songs highlighted her true feelings, but unfortunately, it was difficult to listen to at many times due to how poorly it was executed.
In the most undramatized way possible, “Spaghetti” was the worst song I have heard in a very long time — the lyrics were sloppy, the chorus was annoyingly repetitive, and the singing was absolutely unbearable. An honestly mortifying song on every level (instrumentally, lyrically and sonically) and I would be lying if I said anything remotely positive about this piece. Sure, every album has a dud or two, but I was amazed to hear something this revolting. It also did not correlate with the subject at hand, as the lyrics strayed far from her struggles and were more along the lines of incoherent babbling.
Music is often the purest form of vulnerability, but a prominent question arose when listening to K. Flay’s work — how much emotion is too much? “MONO” had various sublime ideas that were carried out via effective theme progression, but there were many instances of complete skips with only a sprinkle of radio hits. It was grueling to find the appeal in the more fervent compositions, such as “Spaghetti” among others. However, it can be appreciated how she put herself out there in the face of her endeavors. It took real grit for her to step outside the norm and pursue a new chapter in her life, and this album was a symbol of that determination.