Monster Island – Cathedral Steps

Third LP from Manchester trio begins with a low key, near acapella introduction before lurching into the catchy sing-a-long of ‘Pigeon pecking chicken bones’ until it erupts into a frenzied assault of scuzzy, twitchy guitars from vocalist/guitarist Stephen, punctuated by fits and starts of drumming from Wes and a slinkier, moodier bass line from Lewis. This track, e-music, is an attention grabbing opener, beginning almost deceptively before collapsing into a sharper sounding Monster Island than we’ve had on previous albums.

Soup Kitchen is back on the slightly more familiar territory, as Stephen rattles out a succession of delightfully mundane and poetic remarks with glib abandon, such as; ‘I always felt slightly nervous/everytime I made an aspirational purchase.’ Drifting foggily behind the winningly ramshackle instrumentation are whirling keys and short bursts of harmonica, though front and centre it’s a Pavement-like arrangment that moves from its frantic opening few minutes into a groggy, drunken finale that, at the last minute springboards into a spy movie soundtrack if Bond had consumed a few too many Martinis.

Single Pilot Whales is a cocksure swagger of guitars and drums, blustering along towards its indie-rock choruses, off-set by Stephen’s dry, stream-of-consciousness style lyrical delivery. Estate#4 is a similarly spiky tune, ‘A lovely day for a crusade’ sneers Stephen, further peppering this LP with a succession of historical nods. Its followed by MMS/Battenburg (The Flyover) with its The Stooges sounding choruses in amongst rattling, busy flurries of nervously energized guitars. ‘I fell in love with the rubble’ barks Stephen on a bouncing, giddy aside, Lewis’ bassline bobbing along with toe-tapping, head-nodding hops.

There’s a suitably hazy vibe to Bird in Lead Boots akin to early Beck, Stephen purposefully slurring and blurring his half-hollered vocals with twinkly vibes pitter pattering behind the heavy-lidded guitar and sleepy drums. Even when sober you feel like you’ve had one too many and are starting to feel it, a strangely enjoyable feeling as the track starts to pick up with a inebriated determination, guitars, drums and lyrics hammered out in staccato hits whilst the bass confidentally sashays around.

Bun Mix is probably as close as Monster Island might get to being a lo-fi Joy Division, their instrumentation is far looser than that iconic group’s, but it shares oddly dancefloor friendly feelings, and suddenly it lunges theatrically into a grand, epic pounding finale that bathotically squeaks out of existence. ‘I’m just trying to bring some joy into a joyless world’ intones Stephen defiantly on the arch Secret Shopper, a posturing and snooty set of lyrics over a guitar line that, whisper it, feels quite The Fall-like, though it winds up in a scrappy The Kinks-style chorus of ‘Ba baaa!’ as Stephen spits ‘He wants a job’ right into your lughole.

If there’s a weak track on the record it’s Kitchen Witch which feels like the kind of track Monster Island could deliver off the cuff, but it’s followed by the fireside anthem Roads…, an uplifting and cheekily brief little number that builds up with bluesy grandiosity and falls apart just as quickly. Final track Cooked&et has syncopated beats that lurch into sudden hi-tempo judders, it’s a menacing and insistent track, like someone beating rhythmically on the walls of your head, but, even more strangely it gradually turns into some quite oddly uplifting as the pace increases, a fizzy keyboard appears and Stephen murmurs; ‘They drink and discuss the mortality rates.’ It climaxes with near fist-pumping bravado, pounding guitar and bass, rolling drums, hooting keys, before the whole happy explosion is snatched from you and Wes can be half-heard asking; “Do you think we’ll get away with that?” and the reply comes; “Yeah.” I agree.

To be frank, Monster Island are never going to particularly surprise you once you know what you’re in for, but they will consistently delight you whether it’s with a tune that bores its way into your subconscious and winds up soundtracking your week, or a wryly observed lyric that begins chanting itself around your head like a snarky mantra. This record finds them fine tuning their production without compromising the appealing rough and rawness of their sound, these tracks feel like the band are standing just inside your speakers which gives the whole record a somewhat intimate, gig-like feel.

[Rating:4]

Download Cathedral Steps for FREE at: http://monsterisland.bandcamp.com/album/cathedral-steps

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