Thee More Shallows – Monkey vs. Shark

Thee More Shallows
Monkey vs. Shark

This third release from San Francisco based Thee More Shallows continues the band’s proud tradition of subjecting noirish melodies to inventive and evocative sonic trickery. From 2002’s debut A History of Sport Fishing, the band has made above-average mood-rock in the vein of Radiohead with David Kesler’s soft voice against the strong but subtle production reminding the listener of a post-rock Yo La Tengo or a more nebulous Notwist.

Monkey vs. Shark is another, albeit briefer, entry into the trio’s impressive catalog. Maybe it’s just Kesler’s strong vocal similarity to Ben Gibbard that had me hearing the title song as a cross between Death Cab for Cutie and the poetic Scottish ciphers Piano Magic, but I’m gonna stick with that hybrid. I’ll note the indie guitar figures and the earnest but not necessarily dour melodies combined with the fractured, studio-warped drumming, varied percussion (including what I believe are clinking bottles), and keening violinish wails as evidence. And unlike some other bands who’ve chosen this sort of mid-point between straight pop and cinematic ambience, Thee More Shallows tend to have more noticeable songs underlying the persistent melancholy instead of relying solely on mood.

The dead-eyed tempo and moaning female vocal accompaniment of “Phineas Bogg” also give it that lost-at-sea feel of Piano Magic circa 1999’s Low Birth Weight. That’s pretty high praise, by the way, in case you’re unfamiliar with mysterious wonder of that band’s ghostly music. Thee More Shallows aren’t quite as ambitious as Piano Magic, not as literary or as bold, but the fog that rolls in off these troubled songs still clings and chills.

At only seven songs long, you might wish the band hadn’t bothered with a remixed version of “Freshman Thesis” (here “Freshman Remix”) from 2005’s More Deep Cuts, but it’s still a good effort with a distorted, synthetic drum track tying together the muted verse and the thunderous guitars that appear later on. There’s also a brooding cover of the Temptations’ classic “I Can’t Get Next to You” that’s more apt for a stalker hiding in the shadows than a tormented soul man bemoaning his thwarted mojo.

Monkey vs. Shark is a fine example of music steeped in ennui that manages to stay involving and not drift into boredom-inducing washes of dark chords and woeful lyrics. Hopefully the band will find time to release a more generous disc in the near future.