Thumpermonkey guitarist/vocalist Michael Woodman released ‘Psithurism’ on Friday, 6th August 2021, through Believers Roast. Named for the ancient Greek term for wind in the trees, ‘Psithurism’ moves away from Woodman’s maximalist sci-fi contributions to Thumpermonkey’s recent ‘Make Me Young Etc’, inhabiting instead the quiet interstices between mossy wet stones.
‘Murder ballads with funny counting’, if you like – fusing 70s progressive influences with 80s Scott Walker and weird fiction – sinister narratives featuring backwoods criminality, cryptids hidden in the shin-tangle, recently burned buildings hissing in rain, and the warm, sad ochre of nostalgia.
A fine piece of press release journalism there as it really does cover what this album is all about. Five tracks of low key, low-fi pared back wonderment, ‘Psithurism’ takes Michael’s melancholy, plaintive falsetto vocal and marries it with music that is at times achingly beautiful and, at others, painfully sparse and deliciously dark and discordant.
From the ethereal and mercurial opening vocals of Sacramento, with its clever parcity of musical notes and definite feeling of less is more and austere restraint, this at times whimsical musical gem treads its own definitive path. I love the ethereal whimsy of Petrichor before the dissonant guitar and strident drums change the atmosphere, it is very intelligent songwriting that leaves you wondering what is really behind the glossy and wistful exterior.
There’s an almost anarchic feel to the guitar that bleeds into ‘Cloned In Error’, a pensive journey into melancholy that, at times, reminds me of Radiohead’sKarma Police. Thoughtful and somber, The Levitant continues to cement the impression that there is something very different from the norm at the heart of Woodman’s music, the gently echoing acoustic guitar is the perfect foil to his haunting and mesmerising vocals. This EP comes to an all too early conclusion with the wistfully dark soundscapes of Seachange, a track that ebbs and flows between capricious whimsy and nihilistic bombast.
A hugely impressive and admirably different collection of songs that shows Woodman’s impish creativity at its best. A musical breath of fresh air that will leave a smile on your face and wonderment in your soul.
In a Progradar exclusive, Michael Woodman, the vocalist of Thumpermonkey, has written this track by track guide of the band’s new, full length, album – ‘Make Me Young, etc.’
This was written ages ago – in about 2010. It was one of those songs that just sort of popped out complete, but then stayed in demo form for ages until we decided we had a release that the song would fit with. It’s a song about using other people to help push you out of a preoccupation with negativity. It’s about relying on somebody to point out that the things you find toxic or shameful about yourself aren’t really that big a deal. It’s a ‘note to self’.
I once tried to stay awake in an attempt to reset my body clock after flying back from getting married in New York – so I occupied myself by writing riffs. When I woke up, the verse for this song had appeared on my hard drive, though I have no recollection of writing it. Unsurprisingly, I ended up with a song, in part, about insomnia. Hearing the verses now, still makes me think about that state of not being in touch with reality when I’m really sleep deprived.
Another very old piece of music – Rael wrote the piano part years ago – it was just waiting to find a home with this album. It’s about the disorientation experienced when crossing the boundary between fidelity and infidelity in a relationship. There’s even a paraphrased bit of Alan Bate’s monologue in ‘Women in Love’ for good measure.
There’s a definition I read of ‘liminality’ that I really liked – the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of ‘rituals’ when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. Veldt is about crossing from self-loathing to self-acceptance. Cranefly is the boundary between sleep and wakefulness. Figstorm is fidelity and infidelity. To take this even a stage further, ‘Buttersun’ is a threshold in the middle of the album – the split between songs about internal things and external things.
5) Deckchair for Your Ghost:
This song started life referencing a nightmare I had about trying to hide a body underneath a tree in our front garden, but then it became a vehicle for a character – one who has just been cursed with the knowledge of an impending extinction level event. I had an email from a fan in about 2012 who had clearly been reading some of the nonsense I post about Aztec theology, and he seemed pretty keen on the idea that the world was going to end. I’m sure it was all meant in humor. I didn’t hear from him again.
6) Make Me Young, etc:
The title of the song is the last line of dialogue delivered by Kilgore Trout in ‘Breakfast of Champions’. It’s what he says to Kurt Vonnegut, (who has entered his own novel as a character), purely for the purposes of letting Kilgore Trout know that he isn’t real. This is a song about the end of the world.
7) Tempe Terra:
A mournful post-human coda. If any humans do escape earth and colonise Mars to start afresh, there’s always the fear that they’ll bring all their awful conceptual baggage with them and make a mess of Earth Mk2 as well.
The album was released on 26/10/18 and you can order a copy here:
‘Make Me Young, etc.’ is Thumpermonkey’s first full length release for a while, the elusive and eclectic quartet announced their musical return last year with the stonking ‘Electricity EP’ (check out the review at the link at the end) and since then they have performed a barnstorming set at this years Eppyfest in Cheltenham (where their unique brand of music went down a storm), mixing their older material and new stuff created a vibrant and room rocking kind of set.
I mention Eppyfest because it was all thanks to Ian Fairholm that I saw them back in 2014 in Stroud, where their inventive and complex musical prowess, their emotive and powerful set and their sheer innate musicianship drew me in. Off I strolled at the end of the day with the two CDs on offer, 2010’s ‘We Bake Our Bread Beneath her Holy Fire’ and 2012’s ‘Sleep Furiously’.
Both albums are as eclectic and eccentric as the band are live and I am fully aware that the kind of sonic origami that Thumpermonkey creates is very much a marmite sound, you either love it and enjoy them or it passes you by. That is fine, not everyone likes the same thing, and I wouldn’t expect you to change your mind only 200 words into this review.
However, as a reviewer who gets quite a lot of stuff sent to me from various places to listen to, I would rather receive one album like this than half a dozen generic middle of the road, let’s make an album that sounds like 1974 Yes or 1976 Genesis because we’re prog and it’s what we do, if I want Yes circa ’74, I will go put ‘Relayer’ on.
This isn’t the sort of record that you can put on in the background. Very much like their live show, Thumpermonkey request you pay attention, and from the get-go, the opening salvo of Veldt, they grab the attention, and pull you right in.
The overriding theme of the album is an impending apocalypse (in this instance based around an asteroid hitting the planet), which, based on the way things are going in the wider world, may not be far off the mark, particularly when we seem to have world leaders who think that Threads was a manifesto and not a warning.
This flows throughout the music here, and the four piece manage to create some truly expansive widescreen sounds, with the beautiful interlude of Buttersunfitting between two wonderfully intense pieces of music, Figstorm and the intense and brooding Deckchair for Your Ghost.
The way the Michael Woodman’s vocals soar and glide through the music is a joy to behold, and they are treated as much as an instrument as his powerful guitar work, mix in Rael Jones fluid keyboard and guitar work, add the drumming powerhouse that is Ben Wren (who can flit between the soft and the heavy at the drop of a (hi) hat) and Sam Warren’s bass, that is as much of a lead instrument as Woodman’s guitar, then you have one of the most inventive musical quartets around at the moment, fitting into that area of music that is occupied by bands like Knifeworld or The Fierce and the Dead. Thumpermonkey are very much their own musical genre.
The title track builds and climbs to it’s crescendo, where the mantra ‘Take this useless sadness and throw it away’ acts not just as the climactic coda, but also an instruction, a life hack if you will, something that resonates with you long after the song has faded.
They mix widescreen cinemascope sounds, with big riffs, piano sound to die for, and an overarching concept that never feels forced or shoehorned into.
Very much like the best films and plays, the narrative drives and unfolds across these 7 tracks and it is an album that rewards, nay demands, repeat listening (luckily, I’ve been enjoying it on the commute to work through my headphones, so I am there, immersed in their world and sound).
This year has seen a strong bunch of albums from artists like Regal Worm or The Tangent, who have looked at musical boundaries and decided to ignore all of them, and this is one of those albums.
It sounds like nothing else out there, other than Thumpermonkey, and it’s a sign of how right this album is that now, as us reviewers are starting to think arbitrarily about those pesky ‘best of’ lists that people like so much, that I can say for a fact that Thumpermonkey, with the ‘Make me Young, etc’ have released one of the best albums of 2018, and it was well worth the wait.
Following on from his review of Thumpermonkey’s E.P. ‘Electricity’, James R Turner posted a few questions to the band…
1) The last full length release was back in 2012, so what have you guys been up in the interim?
Working very, very slowly on a new album, though it is pretty much complete now. Additionally, a lot of the last year has been spent concentrating on making sure that we have a good strategy for its release. Sel Balamir of Amplifier is going to be putting out the album on his new ‘Rockosmos’ label, so we’re all super excited to finally share it. Rockosmos has also just put out a 4 track EP called ‘Electricity’.
2) Where did the inspiration for ‘Electricity’ come from?
We’d played the new songs to Sel that we wanted to release as an album, and while he was really into the vibe, he felt that he’d like us to produce an EP quickly to help consolidate the identity of the label and ease new fans into what we do. So the initial ‘inspiration’ was basically Sel saying ‘write a load of new songs!’ This was a totally different approach to how we’d written the upcoming album – it’s the fastest we’ve ever written new material.
A lot of inspiration came after we settled on the EP’s front cover image – I’d been trawling through the British Library archives looking for ideas, and the image of a pith-helmeted englishman getting blown up by his experiments, (in this instance, trying to use electricity to ‘transform babylon’), stood out. We already had the shells of songs by this point, but the image suggested new themes to me – ancient civilisations, colonial arrogance, religion – that kind of stuff. These ideas seemed to naturally worm their way into the lyrics.
3) How do you write and compose your songs? And are there any specific influences on your writing style?
It’s a very democratic process. What normally happens is that everyone produces scores and scores of demos that eventually get whittled down to a shortlist that everyone is happy to experiment further with. There’s very little jamming, really. One of us will end up taking a demo, mutating it into something else, and then if everybody is into it, we’ll start trying to learn it and refine it in a rehearsal space.
We’re big fans of the Immersion Composition Technique – also known as the ‘20 song game’, where everyone in the band is forced to write 20 songs in one day, and then meet to see if there are any bits worth keeping. You can check out www.ics-hub.org for more information about this way of writing.
4) Since your last release the industry has moved apace, are you fans of streaming or do you prefer the physical release?
I think it’s not worth getting too attached to a particular delivery method – I think bands just need to canvas the opinion of their fan-base and see what they are into. What we have learned, (and I don’t know if this is specific to the genre of music we’re making), is that there’s certainly a desire for physical product not to disappear completely. We get a lot of requests to reprint old albums and EPs that have been only available digitally for the last few years, so we promise we’ll try and get round to that!
5) Is there a new album due soon?
Yes indeed – now that the EP is out of the way, the next few months are going to be about getting an album release date set – the album is called ‘Make Me Young, Etc’, and will be released in 2018.
6) In the digital age how important do you see the role of social media in promotion?
I know many bands are frustrated by having to engage in advertising on social media platforms, and it’s easy to focus on the negative, but it really is critical I think. While you are fighting against a certain amount of white noise due to the sheer volume of people competing for attention, it’s worth stopping and reflecting on how these platforms offer you the opportunity to connect with people who otherwise never would have heard your music.
7) any further live dates planned?
We’re playing at the ‘8 Years of Chaos’ all dayer on Feb 3rd at The Brewhouse, London – Chaos Theory is our favorite promoter, and it will be great to play alongside all the other excellent bands that Kunal has picked from nearly a decade of bonkers shows. We’re also looking at dates outside of London as well.
8) Who are your favourite artists/bands?
We don’t all agree on the same influences, but generally speaking we’ve got a lot of time for Shudder to Think, Magma, King Crimson, Deerhoof, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Scott Walker’s recent output.
9) Can you recommend any up and coming bands to us?
Most recently I’ve been really getting into Charlie Cawood’s lush instrumental solo album ‘The Divine Abstract’, (Charlie is the bass player for old label-mates Knifeworld, as well as being a multi instrumentalist in about 20 other bands). Here’s hoping he figures out how to perform it live!
I’ve also been enjoying recent releases by Yowie (“Synchromysticism”), and Strobes (“Brokespeak”).
10) What question would you like to be asked in an interview that you never have been? (& what would be your answer).
I’d like somebody to ask me about my constant inclusion of references to Aztec theology in Thumpermonkey song lyrics. My answer would be very long.
11) Vinyl. Yes or No & why!
Sure – why not! Our upcoming album is hopefully going to have a vinyl release. I’m not one to spend too much time engaging in discussions about the perceived positive or negative aspects of a specific format – a substantial amount of our fans have asked for vinyl version, and all I’m concerned about it that this sounds like a lot of fun. I’m personally looking forward to seeing the artwork in a larger format as well. If enough people demanded our album on a 90 min cassette, I’d be happy to consider it. Maybe not minidisc though. Or wax cylinder.
Festivals, there’s no better way to get out the house for a day or two, or even longer, than spend time at one of the may prog festivals that happen across the country and tend to cater for most tastes.
The beauty of the festival is that it’s the live equivalent of the ‘sampler’ CD’s that are glued to the front of magazines, the chances are you’ve heard one or two of the bands, or the draw is a band you want to see live.
I can also guarantee (unless you can afford to go to every festival/gig/showcase out there, which sadly I can’t) that you’ll see names on the list that you have never heard of before.
Those are my favourite types of acts at festivals, because it’s a blank canvas, a total step into the unknown, and my definition as to how good a band is at a festival or support act used to be, have I walked away shelling out my festival spends on the bands back catalogue?
I’m sure there’s plenty of you out there who know exactly what I mean, and we end up with shelves full of CD’s from bands who we saw live but don’t quite dissect the Colmans when it comes to the record, so I updated my definition, as to are they someone who I would listen to again and again at home?
This is how I got introduced to Thumpermonkey, there I was back in Bristol in 2014 after the end of a marriage, in a one bed flat in Bedminster with a rare Saturday off in the next few days, and I spotted that Ian Fairholm’s Eppyfest was on in Stroud at the weekend. Henry Fool and The Fierce and the Dead were the draw bands for me, as I’d never seen Henry Fool, and I loved TFATD in Camden, so this was a great way for me to spend an afternoon. So I ordered my ticket, drove the scant 30 odd miles to Stroud, met Mike and Julie Kershaw and Brian Watson for the first time and renewed my acquaintance with Mike Whitfield, an old regular from my CRS days, to settleback for an afternoon/evening of great music.
Laura Kidd (She Makes War) had recommended Thumpermonkey to me, and I quote ‘They are da bomb’ and as Laura has superb musical taste, you don’t dismiss one of her recommendations.
She was right, they were ‘da bomb’ and I left exhilarated after an exciting and eclectic set clutching both their albums in my grubby palms, and they got listened to on the journey back (and on a regular basis here at Turner towers).
(Photo by Simon Kallas for Chaos Theory)
Released on 13th October on physical and download, ‘Electricity’ is the first release of new music from the band since ‘Sleep Furiously’ in 2012, and is packing more ideas in it’s 20 minutes of music than some bands get in a lifetime.
According to bandcamp this is a concept album around the story of human misadventure from Victorian MP Lord James Badger, who went to conquer the civilisations of Mesopotamia using electricity and covers the whole gamut of human foolishness.
I will start by saying that Thumpermonkey are never going to be everyone’s mug of Darjeeling, as there are some out there who prefer the mass produced generic sounds that lots of bands who get thrown into the ‘prog’ label produce, the aural equivalent of a Big Mac or Burger King that gives you a quick fix, but will never satiate your appetite, think of Thumpermonkey as your favourite secret restaurant, where you go but don’t want to tell anyone else about it case it becomes too popular too soon.
I will go have a sandwich, as I’m obviously hungry judging by all the food analogies going on above.
If like me you prefer your music to get you thinking, have some originality to it, a lot of quirk, strangeness and charm, then Thumpermonkey are your boys. If you want a crude idea as to where they fit into this crazy musical Pandora’s box of prog then, their EP launch party saw them supported by The Fierce and the Dead and Ham Legion.
The fact that they are only a four piece surprises me, as the sound that they make, and their intrinsic musical dexterity, always makes me think there’s more of them, this is as obvious live as it is on record.
The mix of musicianship and technicality is split beautifully here across the four tracks and it’s a pleasure to listen to.
The EP starts with Garmonbozia, which starts with some wonderful guitar work and vocals that build and build, as the music kicks it, with the vocals producing an excellent counter harmony, as Michael Woodman accompanies himself, his vocals and guitar work almost working against each other, producing a complex sounds that draws you in, and condenses the Thumpermonkey sound into a bite sized single.
This also shows another facet to their songwriting and performance, with the emphasis being fully on the song, and all intricate tricks and quirks that set them apart from the crowd are now part and parcel of their musical bag, giving them a stronger and more musical edge.
Tzizimime has some fantastically jaggy guitar riffs, and the beauty of the band as musically adept as this is that keyboard player Rael Jones is also a superb guitarist and their twin guitar effect is superb, like Wishbone Ash if they ever went into free form improvisation of the King Crimson stylee.
This is not a Fire is as different again, there is plenty of emphasis on guitar work here, the drum and bass of Sam Warren and Ben Wren provide the bedrock for the Thumpermonkey town of sound to be built upon, and throughout all this Woodman’s vocals (again something that polarises listeners) impress. Personally I think they are fantastic, and his range is superb, hitting both the higher and lower notes, and utilising his voice as a 6th instrument. Building the songs as much around the vocal lines as the riffs, and then setting them off against each other.
Woodscrivened see’s Rael’s keys to the fore, with some delicate and sublime piano work kicks off the final part of this quartet, rounding off the ‘Electricity’ story, one of those great concept pieces that are fitted together from disparate influences, as the guitars and full band kick in, and the vocal talents of Woodman again show their power.
Thumpermonkey live in top gear are a sight to behold, and here on this 20 minute EP you get a taster of them, they have successfully managed not to tame their live tiger, and instead let it roar throughout these tracks, managing to pull back when needed, and unleash their full power in controlled measured bursts, this is no mean feat, and it bodes very well indeed for the album due next year.
If you get the chance to see them live do so, they do not disappoint, and whilst we’re waiting for the new album, this EP is as perfect ‘tease’ as possible, whilst being a fully rounded piece of work.
To misquote Laura Kidd, ‘Thumpermonkey are still da bomb!’