Ape School – Ape School

Label: Counter Records

He came out with an album a few years ago under his own name, Michael Johnson and inevitably nothing really happened. This time, however, he’s gone to the trouble of putting a bit of a primates concept together, which is great, because without such concepts we’d have gone through our whole lives without the likes of Simian, Cornelius and the Arctic Monkeys to soothe our aching hominoid souls. How the whole idea works in the context of the music though, is anyone’s guess, but Johnson might be stating that a classroom full of monkeys hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely produce the combined works of Animal Collective, Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson and Brian Eno eventually. It’s the infinite monkey theorem but with bucketfuls of reverb, moog synthesizers and the kind of lush, lysergic dreamsounds that would have had Timothy Leary tap-dancing into the next dimension had it not been for his tragic death in 1995 (not that it ever stopped Roy Castle).

Adopting a vocal style vaguely reminiscent of The Cure’s Robert Smith doing a young and sprightly Eugene McGuinness, Johnson wraps his rubbery tonsils around a bizarre and often surreal selection of tunes that veer between the gently psychedelic (‘The Underground’) and the so-psychedelic-you-could donate-its-brain-to-science (‘Deathstomp’ – which recalls the delightful glam-baroque of early Cockney Rebel and Eno’s ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’.

To be honest, Johnson’s sparkling, magic debut is way too complex to illustrate in words with fewer than six syllables, and since the vast majority of Crud readers struggle with their own names, just let it be said that it flies well beyond the event horizon of his work with mid-90s, ‘Nanny’ band, the Lilys. In fact, Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Monkey Orchestra couldn’t have done it any better.

Ape School – in a class of its own.

’Wail To God’ – Phil Spector – but with a psychic wall of sound. Chipper and wriggly Beach Boy harmonies buoyed up with Lips-style beats and bubbles. Gorgeous. Even more euphoric than Animal Collective’s ‘My Girls’.

’My Intention’ – Tearing through a tomb of 1980s retro like the spirits of David Byrne and David Bowie combined. Dig those loose, slinky rolls and trippy beats. A choir of Tibetan monks couldn’t have improved things.

‘The Underground’ – If Timothy Leary and not Jim Reeves had championed the ‘Nashville Sound’ this is what it may have sounded like. Lysergic country and Western.

‘Ape School’ review by Crud Magazine. Released 06.07.09

Release: Ape School - Ape School
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Released: 10 June 2009