It’s so great to have Gary Murray and co. back to making music again after almost a decade of quietude. Gary had to retreat for a few years beginning in 2014 while taking care of aging parents and other personal matters. Monkeys & Spoons certainly reflects that solitude, as well as the grief of losing someone you’ve had close. While the album cover nearly depicts contents of jazz fusion or post-rock (both Koinonia and strangely, Talk Talk are evoked by the artwork), don’t be led astray there.
Musically, this album is a sort of culmination of all the genres they’ve dabbled in in the past: ambient, shoegaze, dream pop, slowcore, alternative country, etc.—it’s all here. Even in track one, the appropriately titled “This Life,” they’re all present: textured layers of ambience painted over the top of Murray’s voice, which is sounding more and more like the voice of a southwestern desert poet. It’s soft, sensitive, hushed, arid, and sings from the soul of someone with lived experience.
“A Game of Damage” re-introduces reverbed-soaked guitars reminiscent of Murray’s solo work, or late period LN. The emotive sounds evoke something mysterious. Makes you really want to know what Murray has been through. The feedback-laden (yet somehow still quiet) solo reminds me a lot of Idaho’s Jeff Martin’s guitar work. Then “Send the Ships” revels in ambient/drone post-rock territory with an effective use of a delay pedal. Yet, strangely the buried beat almost gives it a march-like quality, that when taken with the song title paints pictures of destitute rowers keeping their strokes in step with the music.
“So You Find Me When I’m Lost” could serve as background music to a modern western–a Coen Brothers cult film score ,if you will. Then “Falling Out of Cars” heads back into reverb-soaked melancholy, but it’s overlaid with a layer of ambience that could have come out of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks material.
“Ilia” is an ambient instrumental track that wouldn’t be too out of place on Murray’s recent Lullabies for Houseplants project. It also kind of sounds like one of those extended worship sets in Charismatic churches (forgive the analogy, but I hear what I hear!) And then we hear the first and only song on the album that resembles rock music with “The January Dancer” and its distorted guitar track, buried in the mix though it may be. It’s overlaid with more reverb guitars and Murray’s melancholy vocal lines. This is a very cool track, especially for its uniqueness. It doesn’t sound like them, but it’s on par in melancholy with Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon), Cigarettes After Sex, or Songs: Ohia (Jason Molina).
Finishing out the album we have “Soft Landing,” another ambient instrumental track that’s piano-led but with lots of airy background noise layering over the top. And finally the epic, 12-minute “The Void / Melancholia of Departure,” which is itself a sort of dual song. The Void is a lo-fi folk/alt-country tune, which then fades into “Melancholia of Departure,” another ambient tune, which one can’t help but imagine is a reference to Gary’s 8 years of caring for his aging parents, and their subsequent deaths. While this is clearly an intensely personal situation, Murray states that “although the recorded is book-ended by the deaths of his parents, it’s not specifically about that, but the environment he was living in can be felt in the music and lyrics” (from the album’s press release).
In short, this is a fantastic release, and it’s a wonderful example of all that’s great about the entire LN and Gary Murray catalog. All the sounds are here, and they’ve been presented in new and simultaneously elegant yet melancholy ways.
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