Monkey is a perfect example of that ska that really does not fit into the three divisions that are traditionally given to the genres. Starting out with “Summertime Sun”, the band is able to create a solidly arranged, catchy as all get out type of track that is a key reason to listen in. “Shanty Party” really breaks down some of the artificial boundaries created by record labels, showing individuals that a track that simultaneously speaks to both ska and reggae tracks is more than possible, it is delightful. There is not a punk edge to Monkey’s music; rather the band seems to be more in the vein of popular music.
Hints of UB40 and Fine Young Cannibals come out during “You Don’t Know”, but “Trailer Park Love” is perhaps the most diverse track in a disc of spastic and spontaneous songs. The traditional ska beat has a large part in this track, but Surf, Eagles-like noodling, bluegrass bass and even “Dixie” come to the forefront at different times during the song. The instrumental title track is still influenced by ska arrangements at the basest level, but the execution seems to have more in common with acid jazz and psychedelic rock than with the sound system and up-strum of the guitars. Tremenedously light, “Cruel Tutleage” is a disc that will be the perfect accompanier to any party. Its bouncy tempo, coupled with a continually-shifting song will reach to the largest segment of listeners while still holding certain things sacrosanct that scream “Monkey”.
Perhaps most impressive during “Cruel Tutelage” is the tremendous amount of harmonizing that the vocals have during “Simple Satisfaction”. In this track, all instruments take a back seat to the sweetest vocal ornamentation on this side of the world. Interestingly enough, the vocals on “Simple Satisfaction” draw at least a passing glance to Elvis Costello and “Chattahoochie-era” Alan Jackson. Unlike many of the bands currently out on the market who would front-load their music to ensure the most sales, Monkey’s music on “Cruel Tutelage” gets better as the disc spins on. While there is a certain compelling nature to early-disc tracks like “Shanty Party”, the evolution of harmony and a more-emotive feel towards the end of the disc really keeps listeners listening. This disc is perfect party much, as was said before but should not be underestimated in regards to artistic worth. The arrangements are as intense and inspiring as any other act, and Monkey is one of those rare acts who can please on many levels.
Top Tracks: Simple Satisfaction, You Don’t Know
Monkey – Cruel Tutelage / 2005 Asian Man Records / 10 Tracks / http://www.monkeyska.com / http://www.asianmanrecords.com / Reviewed 07 September 2005