Review: Welcome to Monkey Town - Recess Monkey

WelcomeToMonkeyTown.jpgListening to Seattle-based Recess Monkey's first album, 2005's Welcome to Monkey Town is a bit like watching some show called "Before They Hit the Big Time" -- even if everything isn't quite in place, you can definitely see the outlines of what's to come.

Whereas their breakout follow-up album, 2006's Aminal House had a stronger Beatles influence, this CD has more of a non-Beatles British Invasion feel to it, with the occasional veering into jangle-pop (the opening "We're Recess Monkey") or even something vaguely Doors-like (but not, you know, "The End"-Doors-like) closer "Math Vitamin." The best tracks here are the uptempo ones, such as "Monkey Bars," with a muscular guitar line, hand claps, and the occasional "la la la." I also really liked "I Got a Toy (But I Played with the Box)," all about imagination, and with a few nice melodic touches (the "beep-boop" signifying the robotic arm toy). (As for the slow songs, "Can You Build a Bridge?" has some nice lyrical touches - "Can you build a bridge to someone / By tearing down a wall?")

The difference between this CD and its follow-up lies in production quality and absurdist humor. To my (non-music-production) ears, the mix here felt muddier and distant, the lyrics not always crisp. Compared to the sonic bloom on Aminal House, the CD just didn't feel quite as alive -- I would love to hear what the band would have done with "Nancy (Librarian Extraordinaire)" two years later -- here it just feels flat. Also, there's some of the goofy humor that made the follow-up standout, but not enough. Songs like "Math Vitamin" or "Mercado" are more the exception here than the rule. And, I never thought I'd say this about a kids' CD, but I kinda missed the skits -- Mayor Monkey only makes the briefest of appearances.

Given the lyrical matter, the 33-minute CD's most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7. You can hear 4 cuts from the album at the band's music page and can order it from the band or through the Land of Nod here.

This review sounds more negative than it really is -- I quite liked Welcome to Monkey Town. It just isn't the absolute hoot that its successor is -- if your family is new to the band, you should start with Aminal House. But if you liked Aminal House (or if you're new to the band), I think you'll like its predecessor. Recommended.