On Monkey vs. Shark, Thee More Shallows compose a monochrome melancholy of adolescence. Or, of adolescence decaying, falling to memory. The EP—four proper new originals, a remixed version of one song from their last album, and a song performed in the past by The Temptations and Al Green—show them to be deft hands at creating thick vistas, emotive webs of sound. Certainly, they do not shy away from cramming an abundance of grandiose instrumentation into each song. They are purveyors of the exaltation of everyday juvenile, human dysfunction as epic. If this sounds funny, well, it is sometimes. The first, eponymous, track centers on vocalist Dee Kesler’s description of peeing his bed for the final time, throwing the sheets out the window and watching “the creepy sheets blowing away down the creepy street.” Despite the distaste such memories generate, he recalls, fondly, “back then I knew exactly what I was,” before the song’s final majestic build up. There is a disjunction in the combination of the song’s lyric and the Braveheart-like grandeur of its conclusion. The parts are discontinuous. The tepid emotion of the lyric, both the sentiment and the words themselves, does not cohere to the heightened emotional pitch of the music.
Juxtaposition of disparate parts is fascinating when it works and tedious when it does not. Generally, it does not work on Monkey vs. Shark. The songs come off as simply histrionic, and unredeemed by, say, the emotional weight (or the sadistic curiosity) inspired by the pathos and masochism of something like the early Bright Eyes EP, Every Day and Every Night. When on “Phineas Bogg”, Kesler sings, “It is your right to take your life as many times as you can stand,” one does not feel it with any sharpness. As with the majority of the album, the problem is that it generates a blandness of emotion, a sense of puerile sadness rather then a genuine confection of inspiring and soporific melancholy.
However, all the doom and gloom hinted at throughout the album does come to fruition on the EP’s best track, “I Can’t Get Next to You,” that song previously sung by Al Green and The Temptations. As would be expected, it has undergone quite a mutation here. Slowly and persistently it shudders on, moving eerily toward the unnerving chorus of “I can’t get next to you babe,” which Kesler repeats as if possessed by some not so benign form of madness. The tension swells and swells; in the end it is not resolved, but enveloped by resignation.
I enjoy sad songs as much as anyone. Like that for spicy food, the taste for melancholic songs is one that only grows in voluminosity with the passing of time. The songs on Monkey vs. Shark simply do not provoke an intense enough high. I cannot lose myself in them. Some songs tap into, what, for reasons of humor and the utmost seriousness, I will call the `deep sorrow of the universe’. In that deep sorrow we are able to lose our own insignificant sorrows—they are absorbed and made intangible by the revelation of their ephemeral nature. This is the high.
Granddaddy – The Sophtware Slump
Yo La Tengo – Summer Sun
Bright Eyes – Every Day and Every Night