Not named after a short-lived sex health clinic in Scotland, Monoganon present their second album, simply titled F A M I L Y. Think of Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Elliott Smith and The Shins, put them all together and what you will not get is F A M I L Y, but you will be close. Released on a brand new micro-label called Lost Map Records, F A M I L Y is an album with depth that combines some wonderfully crafted melodies with experiences that are interwoven in such a way that suggests that somewhere in between the darkness, there is indeed something to be optimistic about.
The band was formed in Glasgow but thanks to file-sharing platforms, they have managed to keep their creativity connected as singer John B McKenna filters his productivity through the channels of technology from his current base in Sweden back to Scotland. Colin Kearney (drums) and Andrew Cowan (guitar) and Susan Bear (bass) complete this intriguing line-up alongside second drummer Keith Smith (when he’s not on a Zen Buddhist farm in Bordeaux).
F A M I L Y was recorded in an intensive five-day period by Winning Sperm Party’s Duncan Young at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA). The inspiration for the album came after a great personal loss in the life of singer John B. McKenna, which ‘left him with a hairball of pain every morning upon waking’. Like any good songwriter, McKenna channelled this grief into his work and the results can be there for all to see. The resulting album is a 9-track collection of lush, sparse, roaring and at times heart-renderingly beautiful songs. It comes after their first album Songs To Swim To, which was released in 2011.
F A M I L Y starts with the rather hypnotically eerie ‘Quick Crescent Moon’. McKenna sings, “What’s going on in here?” This sense of something wrong certainly prevails throughout the song and continues throughout the album.
Based on a looped arpeggio on guitar and piano, Wasted Teens reeks of nostalgia, melancholy and lost years, which can never be recovered. Easterhouse also continues in the same vein, as there is a sense of something very precious that will soon be lost. ‘I will make a memory’, sings McKenna.
There is a fair share of power-driven songs on this album to counteract the rather slower numbers. Best Pals is an upbeat crunchy guitar track, driven by the dynamic rhythm section and haunting vocals swimming around an echo box. The rather bizarrely titled Arc Of The Tuna Fish features a wonderfully catchy vocal melody line that just about hangs over the wonderful atmospheric arrangement of the song. Another pretty energetic dose of power is served up in All You Need To Know Is Now. ‘No regrets’, sings McKenna and there is certainly a sense of grabbing hold of the present and milking it for all it’s worth. ‘I pray for everyone I know,’ sings McKenna in Car Coming Home. This song expresses a great sense of the fear of loss and the fear of bad news that threatens us all. Bean a Daughter starts off with laughter but descends into something much darker as the band builds up to a growling, menacing distorted sound of signals turned up to the max.
The final track on this journey of twists and turns takes us to Ivory and Tusk with McKenna asking where we will go when we leave this world. It’s that big question that we are left to ponder as the sound of water slowly fades the album out. Perhaps this is the clue, life is cyclical. It’s certainly fitting that the album has been released at this time of the year, as autumn often induces a sense of something lost as we wait for life to renew itself all over again.
Review by: Philip Soanes