Monkey Swallows the Universe
The Bright Carvings
Sheffield Phonographic Corporation
t takes a great man to put a city on his back and carry it to new heights. To fight with every aorta and vein in your body, and inspire others to do the same, from artisans to dalits, takes a rare brilliance. A few lucky conurbations have had men like these. Paris had Le Corbusier. Compton had Eric Wright. And to complete the trinity, I submit the name of Neil Warnock, doing the same for Sheffield. And why not? Seven years ago, nobody had ever heard of the town of Sheffield. And nowadays, thanks to ol' Colin Wanker and his genial style of football management, the City of Steel is hotter than an open heath furnace. You've got an economic revival, you've got Sheffield Hallam being as full of wealth and assholes as London, and you’ve got the music. The more observant of you will have recently developed a priapism over The Long Blondes that won't be subsiding until some time in 2013, whilst blah blah blah Arctic Monkeys blah blah blah. Add that lot to Martin Fry's awesome appearance on reality TV graveyard Just the Two of Us and, um, 65daysofstatic—a list any mayor would be happy to boast about at a dignitary dinner party.
I motion that Monkey Swallows the Universe get added to that list as well, because this lot are something special. Named after an episode of every student's favourite nonsensical Buddhist chop-socky TV show, this lot keep it twee. This is some Sarah Records, mittens-n-anoraks-n “Oh fiddlesticks my brown felt tip has run out, I shall have to colour the pretty lady's dress in with mustard” style ish, but done with such charm, such warmth, such... brilliance that it overpowers cynicism and gets you shimmying about in the finest of indie-disco fashions.
In a country where you can't leave the house without someone walking up to you at gunpoint and forcing you to listen to Daniel Powter, it's a sorbet for the musical palette to hear acoustic balladry done with a heart. “Sheffield Shanty” shouts out more hoods than that bit at the end of “California Love,” but keeps it strictly local, detailing the bemused yet tranquil high-seas piracy one would get up to if said town was entirely flooded: “I'll cut my hair short / And I'll make a flag from an old black dress I'd have worn / If it hadn't rained so much / That the seven hills became seven seas.” Paul Simon is interpreted along the way, reminding that the last time unplugged guitars lulled you into such a sense of relaxation was “The 59th Bridge Song.”
Vocalist Nat Johnson alternately withers you and withers herself depending on her mood, “Martin” sees her drag you up and down on whim with the merest inflection of her lines. And, in the tradition of the Long Blondes, the female members of the band have so much more physical and visceral impact than the male ones as to make Heavenly and Hole look like, I dunno, fucking Art Brut or something.
“Jimmy Down the Well” has two things going for it that all other unsigned indie bands have these days. 1) It's a Simpsons reference and 2) Steve Lamacq likes it. It's also amazing, handclaps like they were bringing 86 back, guitars jangling like The Sundays with something to prove, and some horns sounding like a ska-punk band performing at a funeral.
Oh, but there's so so SO much more to them than this. “Wallow” reminds us why people used the term “anti-folk” once, “Fonz You!” is “You're Just a Baby” if Stuart Murdoch knew his way around a cosmetics counter properly. “You Yesterday” sways like the best easy listening album closers do (except it's track 6 here) and... there's very little wrong here. If Monkey Swallows don't get some sort of mass media coverage and fellatio for this album, then I think that could be good reason to set fire to your passport and just moved to Sweden. I mean, other than Neil Warnock, what else would there be left to stay here for?