Monster Movie: Last Night Something Happened

[7 May 2002]

By Jason Thompson

The Edge of Heaven

Have people yet turned on to the sounds of Monster Movie? The year 2001 found the band debuting with their self-titled EP, a stunning and melodic dose of what sounded like a return to a style of shoegazing that hadn’t been heard in a while. Now, the band is back with their first full-length album, Last Night Something Happened. And whatever expectations were felt previously regarding the EP can now be thrown out the window. This album meets and exceeds those expectations by miles.

For those out there new to this group, Monster Movie features Sean Hewson and Christian Savill. Former residence in the group Slowdive is, of course, a staple of the Monster Movie resume. But forget about all that, and forget about the shoegazing and the drone pop and even the previous EP for a moment. Sean and Christian have opened up their sound immensely on this album. They now have a larger atmospheric quality to their songs, whereas the EP sometimes felt crowded due to all of the tracks’ layering and sheer density (not that that’s a bad thing at all).

Old fans will notice that this time around the guys have given a bit more prominence to acoustic guitars and piano notes and melodies, more than the fuzzed out electric guitars and droning synths of the previous release. Granted, things start out on a similar note to that of the EPs, with the track “First Trip to the City” featuring an arcane sounding beatbox rhythm and the kind of minimalist instrumental melancholia that the band juggled with its thicker sounding properties on the debut disc. But from there on out, aside from the other brief instrumental track “Star City” that opens the second half of the album, everything else here is new and improved.

Monster Movie is still all about rhythm and chord progressions, rather than distinct guitar melody lines, soloing, and other things one would expect from 90% of other groups out there. To that extent, the shoegazing ethic still fits, but Last Night Something Happened is more steeped in elegant and wistful pop than full-on hypnotic jangle. I hesitate to call it Britpop because it isn’t necessarily of that genre, but the group is distinctively European. This isn’t the kind of thing that one would hear and label as “American” at all.

The beautiful “Shortwave”, with its gorgeous vocal hooks and dedicated melody, is a startling opener that sets the pace for the rest of the album. Dramatic, yet never alienating, the song is a warm and plaintive piece. This is followed by “Home”, with vocal harmonies that (and I mean this in the very best way) are reminiscent of really great Bee Gees songs. Not that the feel of the music is anything like theirs, but the vocals sure seem to conjure up those of Barry, Robin, and Maurice.

The splendid “Waiting” features a lovely keyboard melody backed by a moving string section and more great vocals, this time also supplied by Louise Hewson. The guys in the band have joked on their website before that they put those stickers on the keys on their keyboard to denote which notes are which, but even if that is the case, they still make some of the most beautiful music on songs like these. Even on songs like “Sleeping on a Train”, with its primitive beats and fuzzy guitars, Monster Movie cuts through any bullshit and simply deliver a great song.

And the second half of this album is just as strong, with highlights including “4th and Pine” and “Ooby”, which had its genesis on the previous EP. In all, Last Night Something Happened is a terrific album that offers numerous nice surprises in the way that the group have moved forward in their sound rather than just make a longer version of their debut. Chalk another one up for the UK for a great band that deserves much attention and praise. Keep your ears on Monster Movie and don’t be surprised if they manage to break out big sometime in the future.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/monstermovie-last/