If you’re the kind of person who likes to trawl through the vinyl bargain buckets of charity shops in search of old B-movie soundtracks and Hawaiian chill-out albums, then you’re in for a treat with this one. Monster Rally, the tropical-pop creation of Clevelander Ted Feighan, uses samples of vintage records and instrumentals to craft brand new music. Always retroistic, for ‘Mystery Cove’ Feighan has embraced both the dreamy wave-washed serenades of the Pacific and the Cocktail-soaked scores of the silver-screen. Think Blue Hawaii and electro-soul served together with a slice of fresh passion fruit.
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Monster Rally’s fourth full-length release, ‘Mystery Cove’ is presented as ‘the lost soundtrack to an imaginary movie’. Conjuring up images of surfing montages, Tiki masks, grass-skirted dancers and torch-lit romance, it’s an album of musical teases where few tracks break the three minute mark. It’s strongest when it lets its hair down, and fully embraces the sun-baked whimsy of its source material.
‘Island Romance’ works as a case study for everything the album does right. It’s got kooky flittering flutes and sweeping Bolero strings ripped straight from a two-in-the-morning 60s island-flick, teamed with the hip-hop drumbeat and a smooth-flowing construction. ‘In The Valleys’, the sole vocal track in a lapping ocean of instrumentals, gives a crooning sample of beach-bar favourite ‘Lahainaluna’ an electro-lounge makeover with a posse of swaying steel guitars and a skipping ukulele hook. Cheerful, quasi-oriental ‘The Big Surf’ clops along with the first successful use of coconut percussion since Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Even some of the more recognisable samples, like the unmissable intro to 10cc’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ that forms the base of track ‘Tourismo’, show Monster Rally’s talent at forging new from the old.
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But between the polished pieces there’s wasted space. Feighan consistently demonstrates his ability to craft intricate musical cocktails, yet too often he settles for rum and cokes. Tracks like ‘Pelicans’ and ‘Banana Bread’ are nothing more than one-bar samples repeated over a backbeat with little to no variation. They feel like samples that never got the chance to be properly used. It’s like ordering a Mai Tai and getting the ingredients in separate glasses; nobody likes Curaçao on its own. In an album boasting twenty tracks, a lot of these shorter ones may have been better served mixed and not sold separately.
That being said, ‘Mystery Cove’ is still a brilliantly interesting album. Within the needle-narrow bracket of Hawaiian retro remixes, Monster Rally toys with lounge music, easy listening, Asian scales and reggae to great success. It could have done with a waiter to wipe away the overflow, but it’s a drink you’d order again. Some of the waves may be lacklustre, but it’s still a fine day’s surfing.