Audio Reviews
Monkey vs. Shark EP
by Thee More Shallows
Turn Records (2006)
Monkey vs. Shark EP
9 / 10
Simply stated, your first experience with Thee More Shallows will change your life.

It may not be a religious experience, so don’t expect anything biblical: no pillars of fire and cloud, no trembling earth, no eclipses either solar or lunar, and no choirs of angels descending from on high as the heavens themselves are rent asunder to reveal the smiling face of God in all of His/Her/Its Glory. If anything like that happens, odds are that it really is the End Times, and you just waited too long to listen. Sucks to be you.

Again, nothing out of the ordinary will happen—nothing too obvious, anyway. All the same, you may feel as though something miraculous has just occurred. It usually starts with a chill down your spine, an autonomic surge as Dee Kesler’s whispered vocals begin to drift from the speakers, followed by faint traces of traditional pop-rock instrumentation. Sure, there’s guitar, bass, and drums, but they weave in and out of heavy distortion and Krautrock effects, aided by the likes of French horns, pianos, violins, and countless layered found-sounds for an end result that is almost maddening in its complexity. Assaulted with noise, your mind will race to make sense of the sensory confusion, to deconstruct and rebuild the auditory din into divergent orchestral melodies that, like the fabled Zahir, cannot fail to captivate. Then comes the sadness, the horrifying certainty that such beauty is by its very nature transient, and that never again will you be able to relive this wondrous moment. Even worse is the sudden realization that, by the time you come to this conclusion, the moment is already gone, and that you have wasted it, lost in contemplation.

Then again, it is a CD, and those bad boys are good for a couple centuries if you take proper care of them. Sweet—forget about that whole “transient” thing. Just skip back a track, and pay attention this time.

Existential crisis duly averted, Thee More Shallows is an Oakland-based trio comprised of multi-instrumentalists Dee Kesler, Chavo Fraser, and Jason Gonzales. Influenced by the works of Claude Debussy and Modest Muggorsky in addition to the more modern sounds of electronic, dub, slow-core, and pop, TMS craft painstaking works of densely-composed narrative pop music. Vocally, Kesler calls to mind the likes of John K. Samson, Alan Sparhawk, and Andy Cabic, a mellow monotone that lures you into the depths of personal history adrift amidst instrumental ramblings, of mundanity made memorable by creative turns of phrase and mystifying melodies. Consider the following excerpt from the title track to the Monkey vs. Shark EP:

“But back when, I knew what I was exactly / on creepy sheets in the dark / I was the monkey and you were the shark / a circling fool beside my bed / as I stretched out over the edge / to brush your skin as you came close / with the bottoms of my feet / a special touch from me to you / specifically.”

After an instrumental bleed into “Int 3,” Kesler proceeds with ruminations on death and rebirth in “Phineas Bogg,” the tale of a man who commits suicide as a means to reincarnation. Bogg succeeds and returns as an infant, but remains fully conscious of the better life that he left behind and the long years that lie ahead of him. It’s a frightening concept made all the more evocative by a background of chimes, snare, and guitar reverb.

“Dutch Slaver” plays with delayed vocals and an arguably hyperbolic metaphor, likening the interminable passage of time on a cross-country shuttle bus to the claustrophobic sense of impending doom felt by the unfortunate souls trapped in the belly of a trans-Atlantic coffin ship. Next up, Kesler &co. try their hand at The Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next to You,” layering the Motown classic with sullen reverb and staid percussion for an effect that is nothing short of unnerving.

Track number six is a remix by Odd Nosdam and Why? of “Freshman Thesis,” a song which first appeared on TMS’s sophomore album, More Deep Cuts. The revamped cut features shifting channels, a more prominent backbeat, added vocal delay, and a shortened outro. Not exactly a floor-filler, but an interesting experiment all the same.

Last up, “Deadbeat Water” lurches forward with looped guitar shimmer, harmonizing twang, doubled vox, and brushed snare and ride building into a crescendo of horns and strings—all to tell the story of the TMS tour van breaking down during a heavy storm. My God, if it isn’t one of the most beautiful songs that I have ever had the privilege of hearing… matter of fact, I’d be willing to extend that statement to cover the entirety of Monkey vs. Shark.

Posted by: Tom Körp

Audio Reviews (February 3rd, 2007)

Tags: audio, review, thee more shallows, monkey vs. shark, turn records