Houka Monks - EP

Owain Paciuszko 25/11/2009

Rating: 3/5

A flurry of woodwind and then eager stabs of strings start off this EP, before things take a slightly strange left-turn into The Charlatans-like territory on lead track Hallelujah. A two-piece who keeps themselves anonymous behind cartoon panda faces, they recorded this five track in a London basement and the sound of this record is particularly accomplished, especially for a debut effort.

The indie-pop guitar and layed vocals of Strange Things remind of Icelandic outfit Gus Gus, whilst its sixties inspired stop-start melody recalls K-era Kula Shaker. Whilst these two lead tracks are particularly strong, the third Ever Notice drifts into slightly floaty, bland pop territory with the lyrics 'Did you ever notice just how much I love you?' having very little emotional resonance or conviction against a sub-INXS guitar led backing. The song itself lacks dynamics, content to stay in a similar tone and pace throughout it's four minutes.

Here I Come opens with a Prince styled guitar and then a nice wah-wah riff, whilst vocally things begin to shift towards a sound akin to Scissor Sisters, though the backing vocals have a touch of One Hot Minute-era Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It's a decent funk 'work-out' and, production wise, they've tried to jam a lot into their subterranean mix, it works well in a piano-led bridge, but when the chorus hits full stride there's almost a bit too much going on. Likewise on Love T.K.O there's occasionally an assault of sound, though it has a suitable sense of finality to it, and the percussion builds impressively, mixing tempos well.

Houka Monks may stumble occasionally on this release, but as a debut this at best has a unique sound and a lot of verve and energy. Hopefully as they refine their technical abilities and play together more their sound will crystalize and they'll put the pandas aside.