I’ll be completely honest and say that my primary reason for interest in Monster Movie stemmed from the fact that Christian Savill (who, along with Sean Hewson, makes up Monster Movie), was once in a band called Slowdive. A band that I would be quite comfortable calling my favorite band of all time. But that’s quite unfair to Savill and Hewson, because Monster Movie sounds very little like Slowdive, and not in a bad way.
Due to the Slowdive connection, one might expect billowy guitars and breezy, wispy vocals aplenty. Those do exist in All Lost, the band’s latest release, but in smaller amounts. What Monster Movie attempts on All Lost is a sort of combination, mixing the tear-stained pop of Trembling Blue Stars and The Field Mice, with its keening melodies and plaintive vocals, with the shimmering, multi-faceted pop of the Boo Radleys, where everything and the kitchen sink are thrown in to create complex, orchestral pop.
At its best, All Lost is very good, almost blindingly so. After the somnambulistic opener “Behm,” which almost has you convinced that the disc might in fact be some sort of new wave shoegazer work, “Vanishing Act” comes swooping in with violins, theremins, surging drums, layers of acoustic guitar, and a gorgeous choir of e-bows weeping all over the bridge ’til their eyes are red.
Because of the band’s “kitchen sink” approach, All Lost does become disjointed from time to time. So many elements are crammed into the songs — fluttering synth effects, backing vocals, extra shards and fragments of drum programming — that it’s easy to lose sight of the actual songs themselves. Vocal-wise, Savill and Hewson remain plaintive and earnest throughout the album, with additional help coming from Rachel Staggs (Experimental Aircraft, Eau Claire). When some of these elements are stripped down a bit, such as on the instrumental “3#,” with its stark, epic piano notes and synth choir, the music becomes a bit more stirring and cinematic.
What is perhaps most interesting about All Lost is the band’s mixture of otherwise lush, even euphoric pop music with lyrics that run the gamut from existential despair to romantic failure to wistfulness. This, of course, is nothing new in the annals of pop music history. But it is interesting, and even compelling to hear Monster Movie and and their friends sing “Time can always turn on us so fast/No one will remember what we say” or “No one can know/Our future’s never sure” over “No One Can Know“ ‘s jaunty acoustic guitar and swirling keys.
Perhaps, after all, there is something to the album artwork, which depicts a rather depressing-looking man-child cramming a pile of heart-shaped Valentine’s Day candy (you know, the kind with the annoyingly sweet sayings) into his gaping mouth.
There is a sadness in Monster Movie’s music, like there is in all great music, covered over with the veneer of lush, sometimes syrupy piano and orchestral arrangements (“The Stars That Surround You”) and plaintive vocal harmonies (“Hope I Find The Moon”). All Lost is at its best when those things come together and the arrangements part a little bit, exposing the longing at the the core of Monster Movie’s music. Or, in the case of “Vanishing Act” or “Return To Yesterday,” come swooping in right alongside the sadness and lift it up to some glorious place.