Time flies when you’re having fun – that’s the old adage, right? Well, for an album that runs almost to the hour mark, Monsters feels surprisingly brief. Returning for a third full-length after the widespread success of 2018’s Nocturnal, The Midnight (comprising US-based duo Jamison Lyle and Tim McEwan) have once again deftly handled the tightrope walk of exuding futuristic-sounding music while still being steeped in the synthetic nostalgia of the late 80’s/early 90’s electronica boom, compiling it into a solidly enjoyable outing. But what, if anything, is different?
Well, the short answer is not a lot. They’ve clearly honed their craft, but hey – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Capable of conjuring immense nostalgia among their broad listenership, opener “1991 (intro)” wastes no time in also setting out to ramp up the chimes of childhood reminiscence with a loud clacking of keys, followed by that nightmarish, infamous dial-up tone. Many modern internet users, particularly those of a younger age, could never fully appreciate enduring its horrifying unpredictability. However, on this occasion it successfully connects us to “America Online”: not the album highlight by any means, but it does well in enticing you to stick around and find out what’s on offer further in.
From here on out, many tracks on Monsters display a comforting warmth, both musically and lyrically. Jaunty synths flood the speakers with plenty of effect and experimentation, as basslines drive through robust pads and arpeggios that cascade around. From the youthful whimsy of “Seventeen” to the arcade racer vibes of “Deep Blue” and “Night Skies”, there’s no lack of variety on display. Think Gunship with a sound hungering a little more for primetime radio airplay.
A definite strength of Monsters is the inclusion of some sexy-as-hell saxophone (or should I say sexophone? … no, that could get very confusing). Appearing sparingly on tracks including the wisely titled “Dance With Somebody”, it splatters each one with a sultry shade of gold. Elsewhere, virtuosic guitar squeals outward in bursts, mirroring the glistening sheen of the vocal melodies – sometimes literally. Wider percussion use also helps keep matters fresh, avoiding the blandness that can often come with overuse of structurally one-dimensional and identically paced beats.
Pleasingly, “Prom Night” absolutely nails that ’80s high school anthem vibe. You know the one: shimmering delayed guitar, lyrics adorned with the tropes of adolescent romance, epic leads, and the obligatory crescendo of whoas that are best enjoyed when chanted loudly en masse – drink cradled in one hand, best friend’s shoulder gripped in the other, as you simultaneously raise both voice and beverage to the rafters. The spacious title track also (unsurprisingly) goes hard, with a climactic chorus drop thrown in among the celestial composition for good measure. The number also features Canadian act Jupiter Winter; Lelia Broussard’s smokey, softly seductive pipes very much steal the track’s flickering neon spotlight. Further collaboration between the two in future would absolutely not be a bad thing.
“Monsters” and “Fire In The Sky” hit the perfect note for me. The latter’s pulsating, mid-tempo energy and lavish use of effects on the vocals carry all the telltale signs of a radio hit you’d hurriedly crank the volume for as it sauntered into your eager ears. Sounding fresh despite using conventional chord patterns and structuring, its alluring harmony, percussive clicks, and toe-tapping replayability immediately earned a place among my roster of regular plays, where I daresay it shall remain for quite some time.
On return journeys, I was less inclined to revisit “The Search for Ecco” and the rhythmic oddity that is “Helvetica”. They essentially play out as interludes, though not explicitly identified as such in the tracklisting. Perhaps it is the absence of sleek vocals that separates them so vastly from the majority of the album’s roster. I simply found them to lack the same endearing, nocturnal twinkle that inhabits the likes of “Monsters”, “Brooklyn”, or soft closer “Last Train”.
If you’re seeking some polished summer synthwave to sink your teeth into or soundtrack your night-time drives, you could do much, much worse than Monsters. The Midnight‘s newest release is catchy; unavoidably so. Perhaps not quite album of the year material, but a certifiable heavyweight among its peers. Futhermore, many a standout moment is contained here, in a record that – in multiple aspects – shows itself to be a listening experience that is both incredibly infectious and rewarding.