Label: Counter Records
Release Date: 10th July 2020
"I would not expect fifteen tracks to leave me wishing that someone had just given me a highlight reel."
Composed of Jamison Tyler Lyle and Tim Daniel McEwan, The Midnight is a synth-wave duo based in Los Angeles, California. With the band’s motto as “Mono no aware”, loosely translating to nostalgic wistfulness from the Japanese phrase, many of their past releases have encapsulated this sentiment sonically and through lyrics. Here, with their third album Monsters, the duo has continued the trend, following their rules to the tee, but have maybe missed the chance to grow.
The intro ‘1991 (Intro)’ is simply twenty-eight seconds of someone typing and then dialling a phone. Whilst I get the intention is to once again bring the listener away from modern absurdities of mobile phone technology, calling it ‘1991’ to set in the nostalgia trip from the beginning, it sounds a little jarring. However, the sound at the end then seamlessly flows into the synth opening of ‘America Online’, suggesting this to be the real introduction to the album. Frustratingly, the second track also does not fulfil its purpose as the real opener. It’s quite a dreary, synthesizer and beat-driven track, with some manipulated vocals which would work well on an album that is supposed to be just about the electronic music. Next to the rest of the album, it feels more as if it should be later on as a filler between some of the more lyric-heavy tracks. For instance, later on, instrumental ‘The Search for Ecco’ separates ‘Dream Away’ and ‘Prom Night’, which makes more sense. The album was clearly intended to be listened to from start to finish, so I wish the tracklisting had been smarter.
‘Dance with Somebody’ is the banger I wanted from ‘America Online’: I just wish it wasn’t six minutes into the album. It exceptionally marries The Midnight’s electronic tendencies with lyricism about letting go of restricting inhibitions, such as Lyle asking “Can we get you out of your head and into your feet?”. This song perfectly fits the neon aesthetic The Midnight have put with each of their three albums, transporting the listener to a penthouse party in Los Angeles.
Again, to their merit, the album does have some nostalgic gems that fulfil the duo’s motto and continue the legacy set by some of their old singles such as ‘Sunset’ and ‘America 2’. ‘Prom Night’ would be the ideal soundtrack to a nighttime drive through a city like LA or New York. The soaring vocals on “hold her hand” in the chorus, accompanied with eighties-esque production using synth beats and dreamy electric guitar, are then contrasted with slower, more intricate verses using beautiful lyricism such as “Can you leap from the edge / Bridge the two halves of the world?”. A few tracks later, ‘Brooklyn’ similarly paints a whimsical cityscape, talking about how the “skyline shines with a certain light” and labelling presumably New York as “the chandelier city”. Using both the lyricism and the production as vehicles, New York is transformed from the gritty city that never sleeps to a romanticised Hollywood setting.
However, there are moments where nostalgia is taken too far, and instead of continuing mature idealism, tropes are followed which come across as cheesy. The song ‘Seventeen’ is a song I think I’ve heard a thousand times from different artists, reminiscing about and romanticising being seventeen, about supposed freedom and running away. I personally thought being seventeen was a bit crap. Whilst I get that they have a motto to fulfil, there’s one thing creating nostalgic cityscapes through music, then another thing moving from maturity into the realms of unrealistic, predictable teenage coming-of-age films. It’s like attempting Perks of Being A Wallflower and ending up with Mean Girls 2.
What is another shame about this body of work is the tracks that are attempting to develop on their established sound fall a little flat or are unintentionally comical. The title track ‘Monsters’, featuring Jupiter Winter, starts out as if it’s going to follow the same pattern as ‘Prom Night’ or ‘Brooklyn’. This would admittedly begin to bore me if it had, but it takes a very strange, unwelcome turn when Lyle’s ridiculously lowered voice repeats “monsters” over and over again, in a similar way to ‘Bonkers’ by Dizzee Rascal. It’s something you would expect on Rascal’s rap music, not on an album that promises lustful sentimentality. I would probably put it in the same category as Muse’s ‘Propaganda’ for bizarre, idiotic experimentalism. However, without moments like these, the album is just very long and repetitive. It does need a bit of spice, but I don’t think that spice should be so utterly grating.
If we are to judge an album by a band’s own motto, Monsters does achieve a certain level of nostalgic wistfulness. Nonetheless, this should not be the be-all and end-all of credit. From a third album, I would expect well-thought-out risks that still fit with the aesthetic but take an artist’s established brand beyond what they did on albums one and two. I would not expect fifteen tracks to leave me wishing that someone had just given me a highlight reel.
Words by Sarah Jewers.
15th July 2020.