Friday, December 07, 2007

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2007: Number 24

No better ideas? Go and sit around outside an old guild hall

When Monkey Swallows The Universe arrived last year with The Bright Carvings many had them marked as the twee-r opposite to fellow Sheffielders the Long Blondes, partly because that was released on the Blondes' onetime label Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation and the two have toured together. This eventually shifted in the direction of playful folky storytellers, and while that's not completely untrue of The Casket Letters the palette has expanded. The nearest hometown comparison now would be a more hushed, less showy (and more feminine) Pulp, such is the way they take indirect inspiration from the classic English songwriting lineage and forge it into their own image which isn't afraid to look back but is equally of the moment.

A good reason for such confidence is Nat Johnson's voice, importing a youthful tenderness and sensitivity to these tales of love over all, death and the afterlife and the antipathy between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen Of Scots (yeah, like we need another song about that). It's really in the context of the album's delicate optimism that the album works as opposed to as a group of strong acoustic-led songs. Johnson's a clever lyricist in such matters too, Science's laidback shuffle weighing biological urges over faith in technology (her own explanation: "if we were to suddenly realise one day that planes don't work, they'd all just fall from the sky at that moment. And if similarly we realised that our bodies don't actually make sense either, we'd just drop dead"), Gravestones a beguilingly poised ghost story and a fine example of the shade now often provided by violin and cello. Elizabeth & Mary, the aforementioned royal to-do tale, rocks, but gently, while Matterhoney is like Tigermilk-era Belle & Sebastian getting into singalong folk anthemry. Their wry inscrutability is still in evidence on Ballad Of The Breakneck Bride, a faux-country duet with Rhys Edwards of local eccentrics Smokers Die Younger about a pair of lovers running off to get married, being killed in a car crash and pledging to meet up in the afterlife. And they carry it off, with the sort of lightness of touch that marks the band out as producers of likeable fragile beauty. (And then this week went on indefinite hiatus.)

LISTEN ON: Elizabeth & Mary
WATCH ON: Science


My favourite album of 2007 is...

Nat Johnson, Monkey Swallows The Universe: Gruff Rhys - Candylion


Ben said...

I like this album (bought on the back of seeing and hearing them for the first time at Green Man), but don't quite love it - just a bit light/lite for my tastes. 'Matterhoney' doesn't quite do it for me - but I do love 'Ballad Of The Breakneck Bride' and particularly 'Science'.

Anyways, in answer to your query in the comments box on SWSL, my email is Best off emailing me a reminder about the top ten album feature - otherwise I'm likely to forget, and I'd definitely like to take part.

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