Friday, June 06, 2008

This is a Review!

Uncle Monsterface are a clever bunch of lads. This trio combines music, multimedia, sock puppets, screaming, jumping, and old school theatrics to craft an experience like none other. But they are liars.

While Uncle Monsterface like to paint themselves as goodtime guys making music that requires naught but a modicum of conscious thought on the part of their listeners, while they like to play at being a group focused on fun and laughs and action, they are, in fact, **dum–dum–daaaaah** emotionally resonant.

There. I’ve said it.

While most folks buy into the line of thinking that equates songs about Mario, mutant prairie dogs, and Gary Gygax with good natured (if incredibly geeky) pop culture ruminations, I will stand, alone if necessary, and say that Uncle Monsterface does not - I repeat: does not - craft throwaway nerd pop songs.

Is the music catchy? Yes! Are the lyrics odd and quirky? Of Course! But are the songs themselves somehow devalued by these two elements? Hell no!

I see that look on your face. You are confused. So let me bring you around to my line of thinking by trotting out the oldest simile in the book: Uncle Monsterface are like and onion.

As you peel back layers of humor and sarcasm and good natured bullshittery, what you find is genuine substance.

Let us peel.

  1. "This is an Adventure!"
    This is an Adventure! kicks off in trademark Uncle Monsterface style with the title track. It builds from a simple melody (accompanied by Marty’s immediately recognizable vocal stylings) into a full-fledged and wholly surreal theme song for the ensuing adventure. Props to UM for knowing just when to throw in some brass.
  2. "Save Our Superheroes"
    "Save Our Superheroes," coupled with the proceeding track, sets the stage for the alternating moments of silliness and epic rockitude that exemplify the album as a whole. While the opening image of Batman trapped in outer space will surely perplex listeners unfamiliar with the Monsterface Industries brand of lyricism, the chorus has an undeniable sing-along quality.
  3. "Go!"
    The indisputable movement and crazy carnival atmosphere of "Go!" make it a shoo-in for the official theme of the forthcoming Unlimited Enthusiasm Expo. Paradise Dan brings in hard guitar that contrasts exceedingly well with underling keys and trombone of the core melody. Lyrically, this track is all about action, and the brief moments of understated repetition punctuated by the resounding command to “Go!” drive that home.
  4. "Kill Your Boyfriend!"
    Possibly the most widely appealing track of the album, this meditation on broken-heartedness ends the first "act" on what may become my favorite Monsterface song of all time. Instantly relatable and summarily unforgettable, it blends desperation with just the right amount of empathy.
  5. “[open crate]”
    The first of four old style adventure game interludes, “[open crate]” helps to bridge the obvious textural gap between the raucous "Kill Your Boyfriend!" and the smooth and charming "Heart."
  6. "Heart"
    This one confused me a bit at first; it starts off with almost an Animal Crossing vibe, but it builds and builds and gets progressively more complex and, dare I say, beautiful as it grows in intensity. While I hope that Marty doesn’t have “2000 gallons of oxygenated blood,” the absurdity of that lyric plays well off the red-faced, sweaty-palmed awkwardness of the underlying narrative. The accompanying female vocals (by Jocelyn of Pearl and the Beard) punch up the romantic angst, and set this song well apart from anything Uncle Monsterface has done before.
  7. "The Gary Gygax Song"
    An early incarnation of this track was my proper introduction to UM, and I sort of hate that all the extra talking at the end of had to go. Still, such rambling, while hilarious and appropriate, would have killed the album’s momentum. That being said, this still stands up as a uniquely poignant tribute to the late Gary Gygax. Play it for your friends at your next gaming session.
  8. "Regular Dae"
    "Regular Dae" is about the glory of monetary, the quiet stillness of the mundane existence, and the delicate nature of time. I think. Sure, it could just be Monsterface being weird, but I prefer to plumb its delicate depths. The dynamics of this song make it impossible to ignore (even if the leveling is maddening at times), as does the musical change-up at the halfway point.
  9. "Robot Quest!"
    "Robot Quest!" is the right cross of a fierce one-two punch. It plays perfectly out of “Regular Dae.” Sure, a zombie/robot war is a bit jarring after such a delicate power ballad, but the shift reminds you that, in the world of Uncle Monsterface, traditional rules of musical etiquette do not apply. While not my favorite song of the album, it has the same fun, silly quality of a Saturday morning cartoon theme song.
  10. “[feed mysterious creature]”
    I challenge you not to giggle.
  11. "The Ballad of Broccoli Homunculus"
    "The Ballad of Broccoli Homunculus" is a bit too, I dunno, prog rock for me. This is probably the only song on the album that doesn't totally grab me, but it ties in so well with "This is My Hed" that I can excuse it. I also dig the glitch ending, which comes out of nowhere.
  12. "This is My Hed"
    Chippy and delicious, if not exactly coherent, "This is My Hed" builds to a beautiful guitar crescendo while never losing the eerie keyboard accompaniment. I can’t help but think that it (and, for that matter, "The Ballad of Broccoli Homunculus") are meant to lure listeners into a light stupor in preparation for the album’s next great movement.
  13. "Introduction, Epic"
    This intro bit handily launches "Mashed Potato vs. Vampire" while also including what must be Marty’s favorite phrase "wicked awesome."
  14. "Mashed Potato vs. Vampire"
    "Mashed Potato vs. Vampire" is crunchy and satisfying with its ludicrous recount of this ancient struggle of spud and undead. Thematically-speaking, it’s exactly the kind of kitsch you expect after such a silly introduction, but the thing that really grabs me about it is the ska-core horn hits at the end. Said brass is, I am assured, is all trombone and all arranged by Monsterface’s own Perfect Jimmy, the band’s keyboardist and the only member I haven’t given adequate props to yet. Jimmy, consider yourself propped.
  15. “[use big key]”
    Apparently I’ve acquired an item. A very indistinct and, I’d imagine, large item. Yay me.
  16. "Escape to Outer Space"
    "Escape to Outer Space" is a slow burn, but it's worth it, and it's placement on the album is perfect. The references to fantastic travel hearken back to the title track, and I can’t help but assume that the vampires we’re currently fleeing were the ultimate winners of the vampire-potato wars. As I said, it’s a slow burn, but the music matures and evolves throughout, making it, perhaps, the album’s most complex and aurally textured track. Underneath the typically vague and humorous lyrics, it’s hard not to detect the hint of a deeper focus: that of loneliness, displacement, and encroaching hopelessness.
  17. "Sparkle and Shine (prelude)"
    It’s obvious we’ve been set up. While "Escape the Out Space" lulls the listener into a bit of a negative funk, "Sparkle and Shine (prelude)" follows up with a strong sense of positivity. Honestly, it’s a damn-near inspirational little number - be it in a totally skewed manner - that handily starts our final decent to the album’s conclusion.
  18. "Rock 4 Luv!"
    Whereas the previous track is all about conveying the last minor thematic shift of the album – which I’ll discuss in a bit – the final song has the kind of flair and energy that I like to imagine is conveyed in the live Uncle Monsterface experience. “Rock 4 Luv” is a sing-along anthem that puts a positively pleasing spin on our “adventures” so far. For a band that seemingly goes out of its way to keep music fun and light, "Rock 4 Luv!" and "Sparkle and Shine (prelude)" come across as almost uncharacteristic affirmations of the individualistic lifestyle exemplified by nerds. For that matter, “Fuck all the stupid fuckers, don’t listen to what they say” may as well be the official geek mantra!
  19. “[adventure complete]”
    After an album of oddly emotional ups and downs, Uncle Monsterface leaves us with a sly nod in the form of this outro. Perhaps they are implying that, no matter what obstacles you must surmount along life’s journey, it could always be worse. Perhaps they were just being clever. I like to think it’s both.

As a newly minted UM devotee, I’ll say that this is the strongest Uncle Monsterface album to date. While it lacks the sort of obvious overarching concept of Nintendode, it manages to have an amazingly solid progression that leads the listener on an adventure of his own. Its high points are easily on-par with my favorite tracks from previous albums – songs like "I'm Sorry" and "Derockracy" – and it honestly doesn't have any low points to speak of. It's solid, fun, and wholly entertaining, and I recommend the hell out of it. The only question is, to whom do I recommend it.

Fans of smart, geeky artists with a strong slant toward absurdist meanderings - Shael Riley, Schaffer the Darklord, and Sudden Death come to mind – will certainly grok the Monsterface style. And even if all you’re looking for is a fun, solid musical experience, then I have no doubt you’ll be pleased with This is an Adventure!

But I’d also recommend this release to those who like surprises. Those who like to dig. To peel the onion.

While the obvious theme of the album (I’d hesitate to call it a “concept”) is adventure, there are a number of minor, underlying shifts that lead like breadcrumbs from one side of the album to the other. From space and travel to heartsickness and romance; from loss and rejection to dinosaurs, robots, and vampires; from hopelessness to hopefulness; and, finally, to love, This is an Adventure! is a cleverly disguised musical metaphor for the journey of life.

And much like life itself, it is resplendent with a simple, subtle, ridiculous beauty that can’t help but satisfy.

“You start by doing the stuff that comes first.”


paradise dan said...

Whoa! Thanks Z!
I'm kinda speechless, thanks for taking the time and really digging into the album, your review is shockingly spot on.

I think we need to make you a Captain of Team Monsterface or something!

Can't wait to hang at Nerdapalooza!

BTW, drinks are on me.

Z. said...

It was my pleasure, Dan. The album is amazing, and I appreciate you guys sharing it with me.

I gladly accept your nomination for Captain of Team Monsterface.

I also gladly accept free drinks. ;)