Beauty through Chaos
It was with much excitement that I acquired this split EP for review. I had already written up both of Monster Movie‘s previous releases, their self-titled debut EP and their full-length Last Night Something Happened. I wasn’t even aware that they had recorded this work with Dreamend, who hail from Chicago. For those of you new to either of these groups, Monster Movie reside in the UK and feature members Sean Hewson and Christian Savill, the latter featured prominently in the old shoegaze group Slowdive. Now that that bit of history (that almost always shows up in a Monster Movie review) is out of the way, on to the goods.
Split EPs are often nothing much more than a crap shoot, and that’s how they’re often designed, with the issuing record label trying to attract attention to both bands through fans of one or the other group being featured. Oft-times when listening to such releases, one might readily enjoy the band that they had formerly known while being put off by the other group. I confess to never having heard a note by Dreamend and wasn’t sure what to expect, though I had the hunch that if they were getting coupled with Monster Movie, it had to be something I may enjoy.
This disc was pressed in a limited run of 1,000 copies, and it’s easy to see why. Not because of what might be selective interest on the public’s part, mind you, but because of the beautiful packaging in which the disc is contained. Featuring a lovely cardboard sleeve with a silver black and white cover photo transfer and lettering, with a folded tab that opens and closes the sleeve, and a full-color paper inner sleeve, this is simply product created with much love. If only more labels would take the time to construct such nice packaging. Then again, if they did, it probably wouldn’t be as outstanding as it is when they don’t. So Graveface certainly gets an A+ for the disc design.
The music, I’m happy to report, is just as good. Monster Movie open the EP with two tracks, “Beautiful Arctic Star”, and “Nobody Sees”. Again, for those not familiar with this group, Monster Movie are purveyors of something that falls somewhere between dronepop/shoegaze and pure trance but not techno styled trance. I’m aware that all three of these descriptions are more or less the same, but there are subtle differences and Monster Movie have always toed the line amongst the three effortlessly. If you liked albums by say the Cocteau Twins in their mid to latter years, chances are you’d probably find much to enjoy in Monster Movie. That said, “Beautiful Arctic Star” continues along the hypnotizing path that the band began to lay a few short years back. Lush atmospherics, a terrific droning rhythm and vocals placed into the mix just enough to make you wonder what’s being said are all part of the ingredients here. It was with some surprise then that “Nobody Sees” sounded so different. The music is rather stripped down to a sparse sound, with a harmonica featured and the vocals pushed through what sounds like an old-timey megaphone. It’s easily the oddest thing Monster Movie have ever recorded. I enjoyed it, but was taken a little aback by it. Still, it’s good to see the guys trekking into unfamiliar territory. Points to them for throwing the fans a complete curveball.
So for me, that left Dreamend as the dicey proposition on this disc. Their contribution is a 12-minute, three-part piece entitled “. . . Ellipsis . . .”. And all I can say for this group is that they fucking kicked my ass with their music and they own this EP. Hats off to old favorites Monster Movie for doing a great job, but really, the icing on the cake is all Dreamend’s. There are no vocals to their piece, just stunning music through and through. The first part of “. . . Ellipsis . . .” fades with hazy synth notes and hypnotic, plucked guitar lines. Then comes the drums (which, I’d like to add, sound absolutely stunning here, so kudos to John Byler there), giving the tune a little push, a breezy feeling as the guitars and synth continue. Some of the prettiest bells I’ve ever heard then appear, making this tune sound like some soundtrack to an ethereal plane. Then, suddenly, everything goes into a white-noise mode. It’s jarring, but perfect. Distortion fills almost every corner of the song, yet you can still hear the prettiness holding its ground underneath. Then, the noise fades and the songs peels away slowly in reverse fashion of how it began.
The second part features some outstanding guitar work, with one of the best melody lines I’ve heard in ages. It’s kind of reminiscent of Bob Mould when he is at his best . . . but even better than that. This is a full-on rocking segment with those drums again just impressively propelling the song along. This has got to be some of the best two-minutes-and-35 seconds of music my ears have ever encountered. Right up there with anything magical and musical that I have ever loved. And the best thing is that it’s so damn short. You need to hear more of this melody, but you can’t. And it’s there that “ Ellipsis ” slows down into its final third portion, with warm, slow tones, the beautiful bells again, and the guitars swirling and swelling delicately until there’s nothing left but that last note.
Preface came out last October in 2002. I wish I had had this disc then as it would have easily made my year end best of list. If you can get your hands on a copy of this EP, please do so. This is music that anyone, anywhere can enjoy. The feelings it creates when being heard are almost indescribable, and I’d bet that everyone who does hear it would have a uniquely profound experience. This is music at its most beautiful by two groups who deserve so much more. Preface is, by and large, essential listening. Do what you must to hear and enjoy this music.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.