In high school, my post-punk, U2-wannabe band shared a stage with an act called Plasma Ray Gun. They were virtually punk rockers influenced by David Bowie and 90‘s art rock, who centered their weird antics around an old theremin they used to make all kinds of strange sounds. None of them actually knew how to play anything melodic, of course, but they liked the screechy warbles they could get out of the instrument. I bring them up, not just because of the fun similarity between the bands’ names, but because I sense that what Monster Killed By Laser does is exactly what they would love to have accomplished.
Wacky and weird, just the way they like it, Monster Killed By Laser enjoy the comparative freedom of instrumental compositions, employing synth, bass, guitars, and percussion to construct modulating themes with meticulous rhythmic structures. Overall, their writing echoes of Necromonkey, Out of the Beardspace, and Jumble Hole Clough, while also employing the musical theatricality of Goblin and Crimson. MKBL take their cues primarily from 70’s prog and 60’s acid rock, both in terms of instrumentation and production. There’s instrumental versatility throughout their material, with equally strong emphasis on synth and guitar, both providing spacey textures, lead, and countermelody.
Founded in 200, MKBL have evolved over the years from a Leeds-based trio to a four-piece act. Following 2013’s Xalzalix EP, the lineup settled on the capable shoulders of founding members Lee Laverack (guitars) and David Shields (drums), joined by Andrew Forknell (keys/synths/Moog) and Stuart Whitaker (bass). Hunched & Twined – the band’s 5th release and 2nd with their current lineup – isn’t labeled as an EP, but its seven tracks comprise a grand total of only 21 minutes of material. Each tune, however, is dense enough to cover much more ground – both in terms of the musical ideas contained therein as well as in the careful layers of orchestration. In that regard, Hunched & Twined is also unusual for the fact that its average song length is in the 3-minute range. While this is uncommon for the type of prog that MKBL purport, the tendency does fall into their stylistic wheelhouse. A look back through their discography (one compilation disc, three EPs, and one full-length album – 2012’s Baby Steps…in the key of A), their material has always flowed from the vein of compact, abbreviated song structures: really cool, superfluous, psychedelic prog presented in four-minute increments or less.
Of course, the band’s own audacious self-description of their genre is “pompous prog indulgence,” an identity that rings true both in their material and also in their albums’ presentation. Kaleidoscopic artwork dominates their album covers, and the band has opted to forgo more traditional media by releasing their latter two EPs on cassette tape. I recently read an article about the resurgence of cassettes for music release, but the medium isn’t quite vintage, nor is it truly trending, so MKBL’s decision to utilize it falls somewhere in the gap between the analog nostalgia of vinyl and the modern convenience of CD. For practical purposes, all their material is of course available in digital format as well, but this sort of nod to the inconvenience of a forgotten and impractical media seems to be a commentary on their own material: off the beaten path, bulky, obtrusive, different.
Despite the countless big adjectives I could continue to attach to their music or their packaging, boiled down MKBL is simply… fun. The creative compliment of Laverack and Forknell’s intertwining melodies and textures, accented by the rhythmic compliment of Shields and Whitaker, create an enormous volume that oozes sloppy ambience. There’s a sort of raw and sensual crudeness to the mix as well, especially in Laverack’s unmistakeable guitar tone, an energy that conveys throughout Hunched & Twined as though it were a live performance. This ethos is even audible across dynamically opposed tunes: for example, “Toltec Bones” is a rapid, guitar-driven composition, with unison and harmonic pairings across guitar, synth, and bass; “Lazy Colours in a Clean Fight” and “Curandero,” on the other hand, are both dreamy in orchestration, yet still manage to convey the same mantra.
“A Heavy Focus” plods along steady eighth notes in Whitaker’s bass, forgoing percussion entirely, as dubbed guitars weave an eerie melody. “A Heavy Veil” hypnotizes with synth and crushes with unison riffs, swaying back and forth between hazy ambience and explosive guitar swells, while “The Pit of a Man’s Fear is the Sunlight of His Knowledge” – the brief tune with a long name – is entirely a Forknell synth insert: a heavy, warbling, and slightly detuned introduction for Hunched & Twined’s title track. This final installment on the EP is truly a wonderful nutshell example of the means by which MKBL move through patterns of nuanced orchestration: cyclical, arpeggiated guitar; synth/guitar traded lead; bass counter-melody; varied rhythmic components alternating beneath theme & variation.
Hunched & Twined is an instrumental-, Moog-lover’s vintage-style-prog EP. It’s unabashed and entirely too short. However, the last three releases by MKBL have come at regular 6-7 month intervals, so here’s to hoping for more of this glorious extravagance sometime early next year.