Monster Island - Sunken Public Squares
Owain Paciuszko 21/11/2009
Kind of a retrospective review here, I was sent the debut LP from North West outift Monster Island as - what I assume is - a gesture of thanks for the glowing review of their latest record The Anchor. Although, it also goes a long way to prove that their latest effort wasn't just a fluke, that these chaps have perfected their art of junkyard, slacker alternative anti-folk music.
Opening with the languid wails of RKH (Rich Kids Holiday), it's like the inmates of an asylum began an impromptu sing-a-long on a coach journey to a slaughterhouse, it's despairingly magical. Hothouse has a growling bass-line that Frank Black would be proud to call his own and a drone-pop grumbled vocal that builds into a weary hum like a drunken hive of bees, before turning into a ear popping squawk of horror.
'Oh it wasn't Christmas for very long...' announces Grammar Trauma which skitters and slows with suitable menace. For a three piece they make a particularly epic lo-fi wall of sound and imbue songs with a smart, witty stop-start arrangment that matches the arch and wry lyrics perfectly. There's something especially creepy about the overlapping, near-indecipherable vocals of The GM Verses, aided and abetted by the portentous drumming, grumbling bass and occasional licks of sinister guitar. There's a certain kinship to the equally bitter Cardiff outfit Gindrinker, a knack for story-telling, not just in the lyrics but in everything, with this song building with the same wild hollering of Gindrinker's El Ton.
There's a sound in the film Ghostbusters, it's the sort of 'something a bit creepy is happening' noise, and that sound is recreated with startling precision at the opening of P & P, intentional or otherwise. Beyond that the song has one of the stronger riffs of the record, hurtling along whilst the vocals howl in the distance. Things get dangerously close to sounding like a relatively normal kind of anti-folk pop song on the cracked romantic Twin Towns, as 'There were smiles on the streets.' is called out mournfully over a laidback tune.
Lockdown/Lockdown feels like a track that would have more impact live, it's up-down dynamics becoming a bit dwarfed by the fuzzy production which usually benefits the songs. It works best in its slower segments where it recalls the self-deprecating likes of Baxter Dury, capitalising on a ponderous and ponderful melody taking its time as arch lyrics drift quaintly by. The record ends with a quickfire trilogy of songs, BSC123 is a particular stand-out, angular and with a plodding bassline that feels like a cover of the Fraggle Rock theme tune gone wrong. Closing track Cog #2 is a quick-paced jerky folkish punk number that has a certain sense of bleak finality to it and reminds me of Ballboy if they ever covered The Thermals.
Whilst this record doesn't feel as perfectly packaged as their most recent effort, it is nevertheless a bizarre and brilliant album and a good indicator of this band's rate of growth. Though not for everyone, Monster Island are a fascinating group and, for me, my favourite new discovery of the year.