There’s got to be a term for something that’s not quite a nightmare. One of those dreams that leaves you a little worried or uncomfortable, but not actually afraid. Whatever that term is, attach it to “pop” and you’ve got a good description of the new Monster Movie record.
The duo of Christian Savill (formerly of seminal shoe gaze band Slowdive) and Sean Hewson (ex-Eternal) have been called dream pop, their page on Graveface Records’ site calls them “downer-pop.” Whatever you want to call the music they’re playing, they haven’t produced much lately. Everyone Is A Ghost is their first record since 2006. Having named their group after a Can album, it should be clear they’re going to be comfortable using electronics in a way that’s pop-friendly without being exactly “normal.”
The sunny, upbeat synths that open the album contrast with the tune’s title, “The World Collapsed”, creating that dream-middle-ground. The vocals are drenched in reverb, familiar territory for someone digging into Monster Movie because of the Slowdive connection. But, as a whole, the whole business is a bit like New Order in the exact same way that Postal Service was like New Order. There’s a melancholy there underneath all of the bright synthesizer. The piano and synth that drum out the core of “Down, Down, Down” are dreamy (there’s that word again), but the warble setting (think Grandaddy underwater) on the vocals is a bit much.
There’s not much difference , on this record at least, between Monster Movie and other current synthy, Cocteau Twins-loving pop (read The xx, School of Seven Bells). Perhaps Savill and Hewson are a little more aggressive in their songwriting than their younger counterparts, forcing a view onto their songs rather than letting sounds develop. Either way, fans of Beach House or those other bands should find this directly in their wheelhouse.
The album pulses with life, despite the repeated references to death. A quick glimpse at the song titles reveals this pretty well: “Help Me Make It Right”, “How the Dead Live”, “Bored Beyond Oblivion”, “Silver Knife”. While that juxtaposition between the downtrodden and the sunny is often interesting, occasionally meaningful, but often a mis-step.
For instance, the Shins-y, choral backing vocals and gentle acoustic guitar strumming are a nice combination, but lines like “Are we swimming in the ocean, or falling in the sea like a stone” are a bit too melodramatic for their surroundings. Songs about feeling like everyone is a ghost or being really bored just don’t strike that strong a chord at the moment. Maybe I’ve been desensitized by so many melancholic, sad, sad songs. The booming bass drum sample that opens the title track is really interesting, but after three hits it gets mellowed by “Final Countdown”-esque synths.
The banjo and live drums on “In the Morning” are a welcome addition after the repetition of synth and somber electric guitar. The Shins sound is here too, reveling in the mellow, understated vocals. “Silver Knife” is a great song altogether, layers and layers of electronics and guitar sifting together into a strong anthemic piece.
Everyone Is A Ghost is something that should get recognition. People will like it. I’m left a little unimpressed, though. I never got a moment of excitement, either in or from the music. It’s solid, strong in its writing and performance, but it doesn’t have enough power or stimulating.