Monster Movie - Keep The Voices Distant

by Steve Rhodes Rating:8 Release Date:2017-03-31

After their reformation in 2014 after nearly two decades defunct it's been all hands to the pump for the members of Slowdive, who have not only occupied themselves with touring and recording material for the upcoming Slowdive album but have kept themselves busy with solo material and high-profile side projects, such as Minor Victories and Black Hearted Brother. Guitarist Christian Savill actually formed Monster Movie with Sean Hewson originally in 1989 (after a one off EP and single as Eternal, including the glorious 'Sleep'), but the project was put on hold as Slowdive took off, with Monster Movie only properly getting into gear at the turn of the century. After five albums in eight years, Keep The Voices Distant is their first since 2010 and their strongest by some distance. While maintaining a guitar-led stance, reverb and effects are used to enhance rather than lead the way. Gone is the flimsy production of old, replaced with a beefier, fuller sound that finally brings potential and something more original to the table than typical shoegaze-lite offerings.

There no slow, building introduction to 'Trapped' it just launches straight into a wall of fuzzed up guitar distortion with more than a hint of organ, like Of Montreal at their most spectral. Percussion could be transplanted straight from The Stooges I Wanna Be Your Dog, as the song is full of positive and upbeat chords, sounding like Teenage FanClub being dragged through a blender.

There is a danger of 'Going Backwards' living up to it's name by being a pale imitation of Shoegazers past as the chord changes at the beginning appear to be a direct pastiche of Ride's Vapour Trail, but thankfully the song quickly moves on to warm, sunnier climbs. A proper pop song with multi-tracked vocals, that nods towards The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart in its sunny disposition, albeit with far more backbone. The guitars swirl far more than the opener but the optimistic spirit is maintained without being cloy or saccharine.

The frenetic pace drops with the gorgeous 'In The Pines'. Echo-drenched, orchestral and luscious, as if it was recorded in the bowels of a church and with a female vocal for company, it is a hymnal track, sharing DNA perhaps with Mogwai's What Are They Doing In Heaven Today, from the Les Revenants soundtrack, with drums more central and a cacophony of guitars, that have more depth and warmth to them, especially in the interludes.

'No More' continues the more sedate pace, opening with echoed samples, like an ethereal car alarm, before bolshy drums, fuller synth chords, sun-drenched guitars and a deeper vocal more reminiscent of Ultra Vivid Scene. It feels like a defiant song, trying to attempt to break from the past and launch a new lease of life, as demonstrated by the lyrics. ”I'm growing old, time's ticking over”.

'Keep The Voices Distant' changes tact, with a darker, grittier perspective. The drums pound and roll, the bass throbs and guitars swoon. Like Mercury Rev if they'd come from the Lancashire hills rather than upstate New York, this is beautiful mood music, full of glacial moorland soundscapes.

Lead single 'Should Stray From The Shadows' continues the darker trajectory. Again immediate, the guitars envelop the room as the drums propel the song speedily forward, like Interpol or Longwave at their most direct. A cracking track that will get you bouncing along in unison.

The muscular theme continues with 'In The Ground', a dual vocal, wall-to-wall, melodic noise-fest, that doesn't drag its heels, hammering its message home and then moves on, which is refreshing in this constant 'value for money'-seeking age. Likewise 'Don't You Want To Love Us', perhaps a more inquisitive, less-demanding request than Manic Street Preachers' clarion call, doesn't hang about, taking just two minutes of our time, with workmanlike, neatly-strummed trebly guitars backed with some nice high-end vocals and keys.

'Into The Light' is definitely one of the strengths of the album, with a deeper, soothing dual vocal and a darker, but not exactly bleaker, tone that feels akin in style to early Lush, The Belltower or The Lees of Memory. The introspective centre allows distant keys to push in from the background and the guitars shrill effortlessly at times, adding substance to a deeply melodic song.

The highlight though is closer 'Dead In The Water', a spacious track, more at home to Secret Shine, with guitars and ghostly keys spooking the background before distorted guitars, heavier bass and drums appear and the pace accelerates as every instrument is simultaneously played out to its fullest intensity, before departing as quickly, leaving soaring key chords, squelching electronic noise, an acoustic and an arpeggioed guitar to bring proceedings to a close.

From going on history I wasn't expecting much from the new release by Monster Movie, but what a surprise it is. The power and precision of the recordings and the depth and intensity levels are through the roof compared to the past. The addition of fellow Slowdive resident Nick Chaplin on bass and Air Formation's James Harrison on drums seems to have definitely helped bolster their sound. Keep The Voices Distant acknowledges its influences but builds upon them resulting in a fresh and triumphant collection of great dreamy tracks.

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