Not your everyday rock band, but not your everyday country band either; Monkey...
Louis Pattison 2007
They might boast a name apparently inspired by a particularly harrowing chapter of the I Ching, but one spin of Monkey Swallows The Universe’s second album, The Casket Letters, suggests this band mostly inspired by matters somewhat less fantastical. That’s not to say either, however, that these lumpen bloke-rockers are inspired by their fellow simian-named, Sheffield-born kin, Arctic Monkeys. Rather, Monkey Swallows The Universe take a quite delightful third way, picking up acoustic guitars, lap steel and mandolin, cello and penny whistle for a bright, rustic-sounding suite of folk-rock songs that bloom with bright melodies and the intimate, English country garden vocals of Nat Johnson.
It’s worth making very clear, however, that MSTU have ambitions beyond the folk-heads remaking their favourite Vashti Bunyan records. The opening “Stautory Rights” sees Johnson emoting ‘They can never take our/Stautory rights’ over dancing acoustic guitar and serene glides of lap steel, while the beefier “Bloodline” and “Elizabeth And Mary” demonstrate Monkey are more than capable of a more muscular, electric sound.
One album standout is “Ballad Of The Breakneck Bride”, a dark country duet worthy of the Handsome Family. In it, Johnson and Kevin Gori play star-crossed lovers sneaking out from under the watchful eyes of their parents and speeding to a chapel with the hope of a shotgun with hopes of swift nuptials; but tragically, the car spins off the road, the two are killed, and their spirits sing together of their hopes to meet in the afterlife.
Not your everyday rock band, then, but not your everyday country band either; Monkey Swallows The Universe might be sweet, but they’re far from innocent. Or, as “Paper, Scissors, Stone” puts it: ‘And like they say it’s just sex and drugs and rock’n’roll/The only difference is that we don’t have to do them all’.