t can be bad when you've got a band's previous records influencing your reception of a new work; it's worse, perversely enough, when all you've got is a single song you adore. You wind up hoping that the rest of their music reflects what you loved about the track, and none but the most monochromatic acts can manage that (and even when they do, the old adage about being careful what you wish for comes to mind).
So I might as well get it off my chest: Monster Movie's “Letting You Know,” off of 2004's mini-album Transistor, is one of my favorite songs. Christian Savill and Sean Hewson (with Rachel Stagg adding her vocals to the mix) managed to create one of the best shoegazing tracks I've heard with little more than a drum machine, luminous feedback, and Stagg's voice. It’s charmingly rough-hewn and has one of the most beatific closing refrains around. So a whole album with Stagg (who despite press sheet and website protestations, seems very much to be a part of the band)—fantastic, yes?
Partly. After the brief Bochum Welt-esque introduction of “Behm” the band launches into the gracefully reticent “Vanishing Act.” It's got the kind of curiously blurred sound of so much modern music—an effect down more to the processing than any particular instrument. And that processing is much cleaner and sharper than on “Letting You Know.” So much of shoegaze's effect, as Monster Movie well know (this would be the point where I might as well mention that Savill played guitar in the pre-Pygmalion Slowdive) depends on a certain distance from the listener but here Monster Movie emerge from the shadows and it works fabulously.
But then “The Stars That Surround You” starts—and so do your misgivings. Quavery vocals, vaguely hippie lyrics, piano-based ballad.... Monster Movie, band name notwithstanding, are kind of twee. And worse, kind of twee in a way that might be quite acceptable cloaked in a little fuzz and echo (where it might seem portentous or mystical) but that winds up being slightly cringe-worthy unadorned. It strikes them strongest when they sing about the solar system; “Hope I Find the Moon” is All Lost's nadir, and while both “Run to the Heart of the Sunrise” and “Falling Into the Sun” are at worst tolerable they don't manage to achieve the heights of the peppy, fuzzy “Return to Yesterday” or the synth-poppy “Driving Through the Red Lights.”
The other kind of song the band doesn't exactly excel at is the instrumental. “Behm” is nice enough, but both the disjointed “#3” and the overly blippy “Vertical Planes” serve as unwelcome breaks from the action, preventing Monster Movie from using their still palpable gift for melody and gnomic melancholy. Between those breaks and the stylistic chasm between their electronic and rock sides, All Lost registers more as a series of often pleasant moments than a cohesive statement (or whatever it is albums are supposed to be these days).