Monkeybars - Practical Suede


Gerard Marcus

Synth pop can set you in a dream, suspending you in a brief, hazy reality. Sometimes this is a place of relaxation, and sometimes the lush synths and driving grooves propel your feet off the ground and your fist into the air as you jump along in a state of disoriented bliss. Or maybe that's just me?

"Practical Suede" is right at the center of this synth pop dream space, balancing themes of patience, doubt, and life's most overwhelming experiences with a groove heavy enough to push you through it all. The brainchild of songwriter Eli Aleinkoff, Monkeybars features a cadre of talented artists, including Sahil Ansari on drums and production, James Wyatt on guitar, Peter Wagner on bass, and Aleinkoff himself on vocals, synths, and soprano sax. The song melds synth with creative horn production, stretching traditional synth pop sounds in a fresh direction. And Aleinkoff takes the brass a step further with a blistering soprano sax solo, doing a great job of shredding it while not distracting from the track's groovy vibe. "Practical Suede" makes for a great ending to 2018, and has me looking forward to what Monkeybars have in store for the new year.

U.S. PREMIERE: Selen Peacock - Elastic Memories

Laura Kerry

“No one knows what will happen,” are the first words on Selen Peacock’s debut full-length—and they don’t occur until about three-quarters of the way through the first song, an atmospheric, pulsating mixture of guitar, horns, and drums with a heavy dose of jazz. Placed right at the start, it feels like a warning to expect the unexpected, which the listener comes to embrace throughout the album.

If there’s a would-be thesis statement for Elastic Memories, though, it doesn’t surface until the second song, “As An Island.” A brighter, guitar-driven tune with a pounding beat, it paints an aquatic ecosystem, from fish to the fisherman who catch them. Its repeated phrase, “au fond de la mer” (the only French phrase on an album by a French band, which means “at the bottom of the sea”), could be a caption to the swirling blue of the album cover that looks like it was taken looking up from underwater.

Selen Peacock’s marine bent is apparent beyond the one song and album cover; the nine tracks move like water, ebbing and flowing through musical currents. They shift organically between the twitchy “Solace Shelter,” with its guitar riff that sounds ripped from afropop, to the tender “Currents Of Love” that asks, “Will you dive with me / Deeper and deeper and deeper”—from the banjo-tinged “Best Of You” to “Hawaii” with its shimmering synth chorus that is full of yearning. United by a lo-fi sound, moody sax and trumpet, and Johan Saint and Morgan Carnet’s intertwining voices, they vary from cosmic jazz to freak folk and chamber pop, plus many genres in between.

And like the underwater landscape they paint in “As An Island,” each song has its own, self-contained ecosystem. Even with a few odd words and phrasings, probably attributable to a loss in translation, the band conjures narrative worlds economically and beautifully—using a light but vibrant lyrical touch to create everything from the colorful forest in “Full Of Colors” to the murderous turn in “Best of You.” The world building also has some aid from the horn section, which tends be inherently transporting when in indie pop music. Similar to the narrow, cobblestone European streets that the horns in Beirut evoke, Selen Peacock’s saxophone and trumpet bring to mind foreign lands, both real and imagined.

Maybe part of that is that they are actually from a foreign land. The band—which includes François Leroux, Blanche Lafuente and Benoît Perez in addition to Saint and Carnet—recorded Elastic Memories next to the Allier, a river in central France. It’s easy to see how that kind of setting, along with the musical traditions of a different country, could have seeped in a little. Whatever the source of their music, though, we should be glad it made its way across the ocean and touched down here.