“Finish What You Star…” album review by Sleeping Bag Studios
A great mix of sounds, genres and styles all blend together in all-kinds of rad ways on Finish What You Star… – the new record from Toronto, Canada’s Monkey Fightin’ Snakes. With a sound or song somewhere in the midst of the nine new-ones from the band that you’ll be sure to love – for a three-piece band, they certainly offer up a lot of ideas, twists, turns and brilliant, bright melodies on Finish What You Star… – push play & check it out!
With the treble & distortion-up, they crash and bang into the opening tune “Thank You Radio” – which is a sweet ode to the music that they’ve grown-up on and loved themselves. Twisting through a solid pop/rock/alternative energy…the guitars remind me of bands like The LA’s and Soul Asylum…and the lyrical-flow, writing and style is more akin to something like the Barenaked Ladies going for a rock-vibe. “Thank You Radio” starts the record out in a playful and sincere manner…I absolutely loved the breakdown in the middle…the music sounds completely magical here – and we’re talking FULL breakdown & bring-back…it’s one of those real ‘and then just when you thought it was over…’ deals, and they make the most of that comeback with some excellent backup vocals assisting the melody. Even though I wouldn’t say remotely that this opening track fully-encompasses the full-sound & scope of Monkey Fightin’ Snakes…I would say it makes for a fantastic-energy & sunshiny-start to this record.
Immediately putting their range of sound on further display, “Sweetness And Light” is one hell of a powerful-melody in its verse. Bringing in more of a funk-rock vibe to the chorus, the song itself switches between two defined-moods and really gets the best of both sides recorded onto this song. Perfect playing…fantastic guitar-solo halfway through the song that gets a decent amount of audio-time to really do its thang; it’s a complex-tune, but these guys manage to nail each part with precision. As the two atmospheres play & blend into each other in transition…you might find yourself leaning on one side of their fence more-so than the others, as I did. I really thought the sentimental, sweet & more melancholy-side of the band brought out in the music through the verse showed them in a beautiful light. As they continued into “Evenings Gone” – you get that same sweetness nearly; it has a different energy entirely that’s more like Social Distortion-meets-Big Head Todd & The Monsters – I think they really come alive upon this third tune and raise the stakes on the record, resetting the bar and standard for themselves and their melodies on “Evenings Gone.” Great vocals throughout this record, but certainly a highlight for Matt Davies here…he sounds fantastic in this comforting, familiar-sounding melody…putting a perfect twist into the vocals to really capture the full atmosphere of this song and bring it all together.
“Joanne” was also an immediate standout to me. From the moment the guitars started, they reminded me of Dinosaur Jr.’s signature distorted-sound…but Monkey Fightin’ Snakes take it all in a much more accessible direction than you’d find on anything by J Mascis & his post-grunge collective. Smart verse…great chords and melody that drop in tone and turn in directions you probably wouldn’t expect at first – and it all snaps together completely smartly on this cut. Excellent bass-work from Dave Stoyles.
And though Monkey Fightin’ Snakes might go on to remind you of other bands in spots, it really does seem as if they’ve found a sound unto themselves on this record. I don’t know many bands that write like these guys do, or sound like them…and I think potentially that could pay off extremely well for this band over time. Take “Mrs. Jones” for example…I mean…best I could say for a comparison, would be that they sound like a alternative/pop version of Pearl Jam here…not too many I know that sound like that out there right now that I can think of! There’s a clever flow to the vocals here, and Davies is once again at his best, snarling with the just the right energy & emotion to match the music and its attack. The drums solidly pop along with inspired rhythm; Darren Atkinson helps bring this one to life with clever switches, fills and crashing cymbal-hits right to its very end.
Taking up the distortion a notch into the opening of “Real Still,” it soon breaks to a calm as it flows gently through the verse. Great writing here on this track…the kind that really builds upon itself and lets loose in the chorus, with all-parts captivating. Relating a tale of personal-experience perhaps, or true-story of some-sort, the pound & plunder the melody in this song and “Real Still” kind of comes out sounding a little more raw, real & CLOSE to them than some of the rest by comparison. Solid instrumentation on display from the three-piece once again in full-bloom in the middle of this track with a smooth breakdown that lasts for quite a while (in a good way!) as the track heads towards the end in a complete second-gear. They’ve down-shifted the energy, but upped the charm in the melody of the music for a captivating result that rides out to the song’s end.
With its bright-sounding guitar tones and atmosphere…I’m kind of wondering if the title of “Toad” is more than just a reference to the subject matter in the song…they actually remind me quite a lot of the mood, sound & energy of Toad The Wet Sprocket’s album Dulcinea on this cut. Coincidence? I’m not so sure…I think it’s a combination of smart-ideas that birthed a natural-evolution to an apt-title. They switch it up a little in its middle to really get creative and take the entire song somewhere distant beyond any previous comparisions; incorporating a WICKED harmonica and additional-keys…once again, timing, complexity and precision standout as this song puts on an audible-clinic for the ‘how-tos’ of bad-ass instrumentation. Awesome ideas and a song like this shows Monkey Fightin’ Snakes versatility more than the rest as it winds through a ton of ideas that take it all to a decisive conclusion that leaves you instantly wanting more.
AND…like they HEAR your prayers…they GIVE you MORE right away. If you’re digging the added-element of excellent-instrumentation that’s been added into this record, you’ll also love “But For The Fool.” A little more in that column of course leads to a little less accessibility for the mainstream-ears in a sense, but kinda raises the value of their street-cred with all the rest of the musicians out there listening. Solid rhythm & groove and great combining of their talents complement each other into an excellent representation of their overall versatility once again; this tune almost straddles the edge of gospel/country in its makeup – but there is more than enough of their rock/pop/blues style that creeps into the song to keep it cohesive with the record. Excellent percussion and Santana-esque vibe in “But For The Fool” – and solid verbal-riffage from Davies in the middle as he gets creative and right into the music.
Perhaps one of the better-endings I’ve heard to a record throughout this entire year of doing reviews – they take “Mind Of Matter” to fragility they’ve yet to expose on Finish What You Star… It nearly takes them into melodies shaped by John Lennon…but once again, Monkey Fightin’ Ninja twist the entire tune into something incredibly unique, bright & brilliant in this final song. Really a magical track – it has a forlorn, longing & lasting sweetness and emotion to it that completely takes their writing to a new-sound & new-level if you ask me…I think they saved their best for last here…”Mind Or Matter” is a genius-ending to the record and experience with Monkey Fightin’ Snakes. The potential for this band is audibly-limitless…a lot of skill on display, a great-number of excellent ideas and a true-gift for versatility in their writing – Finish What You Star… is one hell of an experience that I hope the continue with and never truly find an end to…as that to me, would mean a whole lot more awesome music from this diverse & exciting band out of Canada!