Far be it from me to say that I know what I’m talking about. Case in point: I have no idea why producer Ted Feighan styled himself as “Monster Rally” for his releases, but I imagine it went something like this. Young Teddy, on his way to the corner store for some sweets, whistling a jaunty tune without a care in the world, stumbles upon a partially torn event poster plastered to the side of a building. “Monster Rally,” he reads on the ripped advert, “sounds cool!” He shows up at his local outdoor venue, ready to see some honest-to-goodness real monsters in action. He’s quite disappointed when the revving of engines and the peeling sounds of oversized wheels initiates not a monster rally, but a monster truck rally. (See, the torn poster.) Dejected, Teddy retreats to his bedroom, and for the next decade and a half of his life devotes himself to creating sound collages out of exotic records and releasing him under the moniker of the supposed event that spurned him. It’s a sort of revenge, I guess.
See? Look how stupid I am. Look how little I know. I am a monkey!
OK, enough self-deprecation for one day. And no, that story didn’t happen in the slightest. Except for the part about how Feighan cherrypicked his favorite bits from obscure tropicalia, lounge, Afro-Cuban, and Bollywood records, mixed them into a satisfying whole, and released them under the Monster Rally name. Sprinkle in a bit of hip hop here and some jazz and funk there, et voilà! Beyond the Sea, the artist’s second proper LP and successor to Coral and the Crystal Ball collection, is unleashed upon the world. As the conceptual blueprints suggest, it’s pretty easy to sidle up to Beyond the Sea and press play to immerse yourself in a relaxing song cycle that calls to mind beaches, weddings, fancy ultra-modern soires, and anything suggesting 1960s cultural and social high points.
You like that? Sure you do. I do too. That’s why I’m taking the time to extend more than a passing thought to this record. There’s not a whole lot that’s more pleasant than a record like this. The Hawaiian seaside breeze of “Lava Flows” that opens the record would undoubtedly amuse Black Moth Super Rainbow head honcho Tobacco, even though it doesn’t have a lick of synth. The tinkling chimes of “Honey” only make me want to get outside on this beautiful day even more, and the bass and beat accent it in a way that makes it, you know, not just a chime song. “Blame” is a handdrum and guitar–driven rumba highlight. Bachelor pads of all stripes would do well to feature “Equinox” on repeat. The zither-led trifle “Veranda” wants nothing more than to be my constant relaxation compaion. “Forager” injects some late-night funk into the record. I need a cocktail. Anybody else?
There’s also not much to really dig into, if you want me to be completely honest, and I know you do. Each track serves as a surface element only, offering pleasing aesthetics and little else, perhaps a cursory, “Oh yeah, that sounds like that one scene in that one movie that came out fifty years ago,” or “Man, this makes me wish I was at the beach – or on a yacht off the Monacan coast.” These are good feelings to have, and a little nostalgia never hurt anybody. But when there isn’t a single song on an (eighteen-track) album that goes much further than where it begins, it’s a little difficult to hold attention. (It also doesn’t help that most song titles aren’t terribly descriptive – most are one word – and “Waltz is in 4/4 time! What gives?) There’s no ebb and flow, there’s no tension and release, there’s just a wide expanse of similarity that, while managing to keep the album afloat (to keep the metaphors nautical), does pretty much just that. The songs themselves don’t feel arranged to a point where they even make sense – you could rearrange them pretty much however you want and still have a decent time. That might even help some of the later tracks that get lost – what do “Venice,” “Ghosts,” and “Gold” sound like again?
But I’m really sort of half-praising with faint damnation – to wit: “you could rearrange [the songs] pretty much however you want and still have a decent time.” That means ol’ Teddy’s got some good tricks up his sleeve, meaning that even though the nuances of Beyond the Sea are forgotten like grains of sand washed out to sea after the record ends, the experience as a whole is somehow somewhat refreshing. Like a beachside lime drink. Or the fading scent of coconut lotion. And the fact that I’m transported away by its, I repeat, exotica, to Fiji or a wedding in India or something makes it that much more enjoyable. Just don’t make me dig too deep into it. Or add the word “truck” where it doesn’t belong.
RIYL: Kohwi, Prefuse 73, Clive Tanaka, The In Sound from Way Out, Start a People