Bit of a Light Drizzle – Monsoon Season: Elements EP

Monsoon Season's new EP: Elements, as reviewed by the brutally honest, and generally brutal, Jonathan Monahan

Bit of a Light Drizzle – Monsoon Season: Elements EP

This is Dublin-based Monsoon Season’s thematic and assumedly somewhat conceptual LP: Elements. There are four tracks, each corresponding to one of those base elements, of which those ancient Greeks thought everything consisted – that’s air, earth, water, and fire, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 4,000 years. They appear to defy any classification, given that the grand total of my genre-based perusings has only borne the single, ambiguous word ‘Other’. Although, if Facebook is to be believed, they all live in a place called “The Mystic”. This breeds two possible answers – first of which is that we’ve identified a group of 21st century shamanistic weirdoes who have a tenuous grasp on reality, or secondly (although not mutually exclusive) they really like their LSD. Either way, I don’t see myself being the right person to review this – but, sure, we’ll give it the auld college try.

Okay, that’s all the piss-taking out of my system… time to get down to the music.

http://soundcloud.com/monsoon-season-ireland/sets/elements-ep-monsoon-season

Lost (Air) is the opening track. I hear myself singing the words Holly came from Miami, F.L.A. Sorry, I thought I was about to hear something I know, but it turns out I’m definitely not. Instead there’s a low female vocal to accompany what I’d ordinarily consider elevator music. My other half counters with the opinion that it’s got more of a high-class, new-agey rehab-centre vibe, with which it’s hard to disagree… especially when your typical late 70s/early 80s porno jazz starts ringing in our ears. I’m sure your trendy friends with their 1950s haircuts, Marilyn Monroe makeup, and Kerouac obsessions will love it, but I’m not overly keen thus far. I will, however, point out again that this is not my kind of music. I do like the guitar overdubs throughout the second half. They add quite a lot to the track, to the point where I’d listen to it again just to hear them. They’re reminiscent of Eric Johnson, à Cliffs of Dover in tone, but thankfully don’t quite go into the over-the-top indulgence that type of virtuoso playing tends to attract.

Daydreaming (Earth) follows that up with a Ron Burgundy cameo on the jazz flute, although from the get-go I don’t really take earth from this song. If anything, to me, it feels like air, part II – a continuation of the first track’s ambience. The harmonies are tight and the playing is faultless; musically, Monsoon Season are excellent at what they do and there’s no denying that. Again, the standout points for me are the groovy bassline and melodic lead guitar overdubs. They set a beautiful backing track for a vocal, but in this case, one I’m not overly keen on.

Drifting (Water) is the strongest track on the EP for me. It also fits in nicely to the elements theme, with a walking (or drifting, I suppose) bassline that sets it off nicely. To quote the song, it feels like ooh ooh ooh ooh… or in English, like it’s waking up a little – but halfway through the EP, it also feels a tad late. The vocals still feel a little too raw for me – the aforementioned oohs sound a little off to my ear, but that’s not insurmountable. I think the triangle in the post chorus instrumental was a mistake, but again it doesn’t subtract enough to bother me all that much. Altogether, it’s more accessible than the preceding two tracks and pleasant enough that I could leave it running in the background inoffensively while I tidy the kitchen.

Sunrise (Fire) has some souly undertones to add to the now-familiar, occasional jazz and reggae chimings of flute and sax respectively – except in this, they’re a little more than occasional. It’s a bit like some Cubano/ other Caribbean jazz with a catchy little English vocal hook in the chorus. I can see the influence some more mainland European – or specifically, Iberian – musicians have had on the production and it does marry well enough. The vocals, lead and backing are both inviting and warm.

I just can’t help but think that Monsoon Season’s genre (whatever that may be) is so exclusive that I wouldn’t even start to know what to say to anyone who actively pursues and likes this type of music. Don’t get me wrong, these guys are talented, and I’d rather listen to them than Pitbull or the ‘B word’ 99 times out of a hundred, but I just don’t see the appeal. There will be people out there who think they’re the best thing since organically and ethically-sourced, artisan banana bread, but there is undoubtedly a sect somewhere that believes writing in anything other than Petrarchan sonnet is the work of a philistine. To me, Monsoon Season epitomise the fact that just because something is an alternative to the norm, it doesn’t necessarily make it better by a clear country mile. I admire what they’re doing and the second half combination of water and fire is pleasant, but it just isn’t enough for this guy to put in a bag and add to a cup of boling water.