Monkfish make music as a soundtrack for a time and place that never really existed. It is one part The Old South, one part David Lynch soundtrack and one part dystopian future. A blend of what was, what is and what might be. And if the physical time and place that they cloak themselves in is a dark and mercurial one it is only because it mirrors the sonic landscapes that they build, more than the sum of its parts perhaps but some of those parts clearly falling into alt-country, rock and folk genres. But as always it is how you blend those familiar sounds together and more importantly what mortar you use as to hold it all together that makes you stand apart from the pack.
The magic ingredient here seems to be an inherent bleakness and melancholy, never falling into gothic cliches of despondency and pity instead deftly stoping short of such self-inflicted misery and offering something dramatic rather than theatrical, wind-blasted rather than doom-laden. It’s a fine line but one that they walk sure-footedly.
And it would be easy to start throwing the usual references around with such music…a Nick Cave comparison here, a Gun Club mention there but the former never wrote anything as inherently jubilant as the Mariachi punkabilly groover Janus and the latter were never this focused. Celestine blends spaghetti western nuances with blasted blues and the title track is all atmosphere and anticipation slowly descending into wonderfully controlled chaos. And then perfectly balanced between it all are two songs which show just how measured and understated the band can be. Honeybourne is a graceful and sweeping folk ballad and Mettle is, for all its space and restraint, its more intense partner.
Monkfish are a rock band who know that making an impact is more than just playing loud, fast and complex music, though they are perfectly able to do so should the need arise. Instead they are happier to fill the space allotted to them with haunting, drifting music, to wallow in the gaps between the notes, revel in the echoes and atmospherics that hangs in the breathing space between the words. They are shamans who conjure sounds from the forgotten corners of the natural world and seem only to use their music to encase and hold those sonic delights in place until they are done with them. Pipistrelle is, therefore, as much a sonic ritual as it is a recording in the usual sense of the word. And quite rite too!