I’ve chewed through so many of these sprawling epics of instrumental psychedelia by now, I often find myself struggling to tell them apart—so I know how you, O reader of many album reviews, must be feeling. You might well wonder just how many permutations of loud, bass-rich, slow-jamming dadrock the universe, in all its infinite complexity, can feasibly contain; I know I am.
The trick to true stone rock mastery is in identifying the subtle different flavours of heavy instro-jamming that can be found. To take some recent examples: Earthless like to create a raucous aggressive pony of a riff, smack it gently on the rump with a shotgun blast and then try to ride it around without spilling their bongwater. On the other extreme, a band like Causa Sui prefers to take us on long, breathless runs through sun-dappled meadows where all our clothes fall off, and then off we go for a nice relaxing cognac in a gîte. Switzerland’s Monkey3, meanwhile, are somewhere high above us all, drifting around the universe in a gleaming intercosmic craft woven from strands of space metal and ambient lounge-jazz, beaming back the sounds of what they see. It’s all pretty cool, really.
There’s a machine-like quality to Monkey3’s sound; the loping, lazy turns of its rhythm possess precision, like an enormous, eternally meshing internal clockwork; the squealing guitar leads and grinding organs that outgas in vivid curlicues, like coronal mass ejections; and a shimmering halo of reverb that blankets the work in a furious, wincing light, even when it goes dark—like staring at your warped reflection in the glowing hull of something completely alien.
And then you’ve got the other side of the equation; almost every song on The 5th Sun reduces itself to bare components at some stage, before then rebuilding into a stirring post-rock crescendo, all the way to its original pitch and beyond. Some songs do it more than once. On the way, Monkey3 take for stepping stones unusual, amorphous ambiences that owe a debt to Brian Eno, or the slick orbital funk of Air, encrusted with snappy thrusts of Rhodes piano and zero-G clouds of synthesiser. Circles and Suns are the obvious examples, and both present a compelling blend of atmospheres.
Though it’s nearly an hour long, most of the songs on The 5th Sun manage to resist the plodding post-rock trap of interminable compositional length. This is something Monkey3 have always been good at; doing a lot with a little. Even the relatively slimline five-minutes-or-fewer tunes like Birth of Venus, Pintao and The Ship manage to find the momentum to visit some unexpected corners in their short spans. Icarus and Once We Were… are given more space to stretch, and coincidentally, both find themselves bouyed up by roaring choirs by their ends.
I didn’t even know what I was going to write when I started this, and would you look at that. I’ve done a whole thing. About a record. Crazy times we’re living in.
Buy this album, it’s good.