Art rock awkward squad go the whole prog hog.
The extent of Thumpermonkey’s evolution is clear in the opening Veldt. It begins with a serene but unsettling overture, frontman Michael Woodman’s plaintive croon painting warped and hazy pictures as the music slowly builds into an angular mini symphony, replete with crashing doom metal riffs and droning, dissonant keys.
Where something like fan favourite Wheezyboy (from 2014’s Sleep Furiously) was all about syncopation, oddball time signatures and jerky polyrhythms, Veldt is all richness, depth and finesse. More importantly, perhaps, it’s an absolutely stunning way to kick off Make Me Young, Etc. Cranefly is a more straightforward affair, a brooding slow-burner that reaches an uneasy climax when Woodman sings, ‘When you let him come upstairs, he’ll write his name in burning letters 10 foot high on the wall,’ sounding genuinely freaked out.
By the time Figstorm drifts into view, pointedly hinging on the singer’s voice and some plaintive and vulnerable piano, it’s obvious that Thumpermonkey’s creative growth has transported them away from the noise rock tendencies that typified their earlier music. After the evocative sparkle of one-minute interlude Buttersun, more piano ushers in Deckchair For Your Ghost, a feast of Robert Wyatt-esque restraint and melodic eccentricity with several drop dead brilliant lyrics that match the visual power of the surrounding squall, not least, ‘Long mindless tentacles of heat stretch from the sun, germinating some nameless desire…’ – an accurate description of this year’s British summer, perhaps?
A whopping 10 minutes long and easily the most ambitious thing Thumpermonkey have produced to date, Make Me Young, Etc’s title track is where this band push the prog fader into the red. Borderline orchestral in its intricate depth, it boasts so many twists and turns that it’s almost too much to take in on first listen. At times it sounds like an underwater Gentle Giant, at others it’s like Joe Jackson fronting mid-70s Van der Graaf. Either way, it’s an audacious and utterly absorbing statement from a band that have always seemed to revel in their shadowy, underground status, but that here sound ready to step into the light and blow some minds.
The album ends with TempeTerra, another woozy, pianoled stumble through Woodman’s skewed imagination, via ‘Scattering mylar embers’ and ‘the melted cryosphere’. Quite what it all means is anyone’s guess, but as another deeply wonky crescendo fades to black, Woodman’s parting shot seems to say it all: ‘So stop trying to fill your scrapbook/Take a look at where we are.’ Wise words from a truly unique and increasingly powerful band.
THE BAND ARE READY TO STEP INTO THE LIGHT AND
BLOW SOME MINDS.