I’m a big fan of concept albums when they are done well. The ability to create a cohesive piece of music that compliments the narrative or concepts penned out by the artist can be quite the challenge, and can be a good way of testing an artist’s imaginative mettle. So when I was approached about this project, I could hardly resist, could I?
Space Monkey Death Sequence is the experimental electronic music moniker of Californian producer Dominic Francisco and with this album he aimed to reproduce his initial reaction, in audio form, to watching People Are Alike All Over, Season 1, Ep.25 of The Twilight Zone from early 1960. And after digesting the album for a while and watching the episode myself, I think it would be fair to say that he provides an interesting approach to the episode’s narrative, letting the album act in some ways as an extended soundtrack. If the sound of this has piqued your interest, then I would highly recommend watching the episode in question here and then giving the album a listen and reading the rest of this review. I’ll sit here and wait while you scurry off to do that. Cool? Cool.
Throughout the release dialogue clips and pieces of the original soundtrack from the episode are used, forming a strong narrative from front to back, and with the hazy, distorted production aesthetic used from track to track, the overall feelings that come across are vast washes of psychedelia and feelings of 1960’s sci-fi nostalgia. And I can’t help but feel that the choice of episode to base an entire album on seems poignant, with the episode’s lead character, Samuel Conrad, discovering that the people he meets on Mars, who initially seem warm and inviting, are treating him merely as an entertaining spectacle, just as we on Earth view animals in zoos and waterparks for our morbid entertainment.
The snippets from the show as well as the original instrumentation and beats brought to the table are treated with a plethora of effects to induce the dreamy, distant feel that the album is shooting for. This is apparent right from the intro track, which features the show’s iconic opening narrative sequence, with lo-fi bassy rumbles and distortion making it feel steeped in the past, as if you were watching a video cassette that has been worn down over time with constant use. On top of this, tape echo effects, intentional glitches and flange/chorus are used on several tracks making the album feel reminiscent of the innovative technology and effects being pioneered in experimental music during the 60’s and 70’s. This is particularly true of tracks like No Brain, which has a strong melodic hook and beat where the choppy quality of it and the ominous countermelody that is overlayed towards the end of the track, all work together to form one of the album’s more direct highlights.
As the album progresses, things become increasingly eerie, with deep, ambient, modulated bass rumbles and ambiguous melodies being employed to mirror the tension that can be experienced in the episode itself. This all culminates with the closing track Alike After All, featuring Conrad’s closing condemning words about humanity. Another great example of this is Funeral Pt.I which is another noticeably unsettling track which fits with Conrad’s dialogue at the beginning of the episode, expressing his fear about traveling in space, and shows that Francisco is consistent in creating the strong musical backdrop that this concept deserves.
Although the majority of the album has a distinct oldschool feel, there are a couple of spots that feel more contemporary or at least self aware of the retrospective production. This is true of the uptempo beat shift at the end of Leave, as well as the beats in All Brawn and The Trap Door having more of a modern experimental flare but instead of it detracting from the hazy, nostalgic atmosphere of the record, they act only as further additions to this album’s already vibrant sound palette.
There are times when the deep, bass heavy ambient sections feel a little overbearing and tedious without pushing the album forward in any particular direction, making it feel at times as if it’s floundering around for the next guiding signpost to the next significant landmark, so to speak. As a result, this can make it hard to pull out highlights from a cursory couple of listens but the more you explore it, the more you will become entranced. And with the exception of the guitar that shakily opens the track Leave, even in these more amorphous atmospheric segments it can’t be denied that Francisco has a good ear for keeping the Twilight Zone aura at the forefront of your mind in every track.
This has been without a doubt one of the stranger releases I’ve come across recently and although there are spots that do waver and feel unnecessarily drawn out, the novelty of the album concept and Francisco‘s ability to maintain a constant atmosphere is to be applauded. This is definitely a project that will benefit from multiple and attentive listens to soak up the experimental soundplay, and I look forward to see what he does next.
Be sure to check out his blog and download the album from his Bandcamp linked above. Support a great artist today.
Favourite tracks: Funeral Pt.I, No Brain, Diaphragm, All Brawn, The Trap Door
Least favourite tracks: Leave, The Circumstances, Funeral P.II