Monkey Swallows the Universe were a wonderful band who never quite found the success their music deserved. They sadly got lost in the whole “Sheffield Scene” that kicked off during the middle of the last decade, and sadly, even to this day, some of the national music press find it difficult to describe any band from Sheffield without an Arctic Monkeys reference. Happily, MSTU managed to amass a dedicated following, and when they decided to disband it was a sad day for Sheffield music.
I was slightly apprehensive about this album. Whilst I like Nat Johnson’s solo work, I don’t think it ever quite managed to replicate the previous highs of the MSTU days. After my first listen to I’m Across, I’m Ashore, I must admit I was pretty much smitten. It’s a case of one pleasant surprise after another; like Christmas but without the sofa adverts. Not only does it stand up well against any of her previous work, in many ways it’s her finest achievement so far. Whilst Nat is both lyrically and musically talented, I think having the accompaniment of The Figureheads on board only serves to take her music to another level. They provide a wonderful frame in which, her vocals can flourish.
The album opens with ‘Astronomy’, and you can instantly see the change in tempo from previous work. Indeed the album is a mix of up-tempo pop songs and the familiar whimsical acoustic folk-pop numbers we’ve come to expect. The toe-tapping pop goodness of ‘Astronomy’ mellows into ‘I Know I’m Good’, before exploding into ‘Your Majesty’, and a pattern is set for the album.
Throughout the album, none of the songs feel out of place on the album, feeling like every one has been painstakingly crafted. I’m Across, I’m Ashore is a heady mix of charming folk-pop and brazen full-frontal pop songs. In ‘Margot’ they have a song with the potential to push them to a whole new level. It is insanely catchy and quickly becomes stuck on repeat. The closest musical comparison I can think of is that of The Long Blondes, without ever losing Nat’s trademark lyricism. At the other end of spectrum, songs like ‘The Harebell’, which is a loose sequel to Sheffield Shanty, maintain the link to MSTU, whilst also demonstrating a distinct evolution in her song-writing.
What you end up with is an exquisite album which should, if there is any justice herald their breakthrough on the national stage.