There is not a whole lot written about the band Monster Island and that’s really too bad. Just to listen to the lyrics on their re-release from 2001, “Dream Tiger” and I’m immediately taken back to a very familiar place; a place we’ve all been before; a place of shame, insecurity, misdirected rage, curious indignation, sought approval, and the ultimate disappointment that these actions are never forthcoming.
This album sounds to me, in my guesstimation, as a freshman effort from a sophomore band. We all remember the pain and humiliation of being just on the cusp of something much greater; this thing called “adult life” and the constant frustration when we’d always just come up short. This is what this album sounds like to me; a picture in a frame of a person we once were years before. This picture may be embarrassing to look at today, but if you’d closely examine it, you might see some greater hints of the person you’d come to be. The slight turn in your head and the angle at which the brim of your cap was cocked; the way your head turned away with disinterest yet your body lunged forward in yearning and need says so much about the person you have become. Or the laser stare which cuts through the camera lens and had taken you from your Junior Prom all the way to the bright lights of Hollywood; just as you’d always imagined. Maybe not in the way you’d imagined but the tests of time are present.
So listening to this album which features strange sounds and haunting vocals I was immediately taken back to my grandmothers porch. The initial cling and clang of instruments and the hypnotic hum of an organ made me feel as though I were on the back porch with Grandma, whiling away the early summer days of my youth as the wind chimes tinkled in the still air. This is the way for this band all throughout.
The idea that this outfit should keep their instruments going for an entire song seems not the point to these musicians as they play when they want to. This says a great deal about this band as well. We are always struck between our own impression of ourselves cast against the prejudices and preconceptions allotted to how the rest of the world looks at us; this seems to be the same for Monster Island.
The lyrics go back and forth and sometimes meet in between. There is the flighty and airy vocals of Erika Hoffman who sounds as though she may just be a small girl skipping rope. The male singer (Matthew Smith) sings with darker, more direct, more aggressive intonations but seems similarly caught in the trap of this new to testosterone manner about which he sings.
Music is artistry and I like to think of all the music in the world the same way many people view gallery art. Unfortunately music has gotten so commercialized and our tastes are all so fickle that it seems just when something good comes along; something worthwhile and revolutionary, huge money interests are right there to exploit whatever uniqueness was once there and they craft and groom the musician, sucking all the talent right from their bones until they are but a shell.
Monster Island say that they use a variety of influences in their sound including “oud, sitar, tanpura, harmonium, shakuhachi, djembe, gamelan, guitars, bass, cello, flute, drums, Chinese organ, water harp, mini-moog, and gongs.” These musical influences go right along with their lyrical content of “artist and literary biographies, social protest, ecology, apocalyptic verse, long narrations, regional histories, spiritualism, conspiracy theory, Zen, UFOs, Japanese monsters, Haiku death poems and Voodoo.” This all makes for an interesting listen. So if you are fed up with the standard fare which is offered for you on commercial radio and you want to hear something real and something raw then you should check out Monster Island.