Stoney - More Than Animals | Album Review | By Volume

Understand that I am only as he made me: a faithful servant to all of the noise, all of the lights, all of the flashing in my head. Laura Stevenson - Wheel


More Than Animals

A little cliché never killed anyone.

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Author: on November 18, 2013
January 14, 2014

Stoney’s latest offering, More Than Animals, seems quite happy living a precarious life balanced on the edge of taste. Well what the hell is taste? The inevitable question rings out through this cyberspace ad infinitum: the answers manifest in plenitude. Certainly the matter of taste is a deeply subjective one, but I don’t think that precludes the term from application as a central tenant of some view on popular culture. So, for this moment, when I write of “taste” I wish to narrow a definition toward one that considers influence. “Bad taste”, in this case, is the moment when influence infiltrates all acknowledgement of personality in favour of a tiresome game of name-that-band. On the opposite end of this equation ( or “good taste”) there is a matter where referentiality itself becomes tuneful — where naming that influence becomes less so a tedious game of A, B, Cand more so a playful, expansive wash. Again: More Than Animals plays the precarious high wire act between these two gulfs in my particular use of “taste.” But where either side of the equation, either tipping point on this balance, creates a quite easy portrait of the artist (ecstatically positive! terribly pathetic!), Stoney’s music plays shadow in the liminal space in between, which in itself creates quite an interesting set of results.

You could take this idea in a couple of ways. Firstly, you can think of Stoney’s balance as a literal middle ground between good and bad, that More Than Animals possesses a Jekyll and Hyde duality. This isn’t necessarily off base either; highlight “We Belonged”, with its slow burning, expressive structure and lovely vocal melodies camps itself firmly in the furthest reaches of the “good”, while “Devil On My Back” is easily the furthest down into that other abyss — it sounds a bit too much like an over-serious Muse stomper and nobody (including Muse) should sound like an over-serious Muse. Or, you could see this liminal space as the marker of a deeply uneven record. This too wouldn’t be out of the realm of plausibility: More Than Animals does suffer a bit from a second half that never quite matches the momentum created by record’s opening string of songs. Saying uneven almost suggests that the second half of the record is completely lacklustre, and “Albatross” along with “Wanderlust” beg to differ (and, it should be noted, it seems Mark Stoney is at his best when he dials things back a bit). There is another way of thinking about this liminality, however, that I find much more interesting, and it comes back to that game of influence.

More Than Animals works best when it explores fully this third space of liminality, this inbetween-ness, which straddles the particular definition of taste that I have employed for this review. Opener “Sweet Release” really showcases this particular balancing act. At once its influences are laid bare for all to see: early Bowie, the Kinks, and good friends and admirers The Arctic Monkeys. The way it swaggers out of the gate almost dares you to slip into a game of name-that-influence. It dares you indeed: but that soaring chorus, which almost takes you by surprise, signals a particular dimension to Stoney’s song-craft that is far more intriguing than mimicry could ever muster. Sometimes Stoney slips out of this particular balance, falling into some tedious dimension, mostly in the second half of the record. But these slips are usually short lived and there is enough quality on More Than Animal’s back end to make up for these slips. Stoney’s enigmatic voice is not concerned with lifting his music above constraints of influence; instead, he is much more interested in finding the points where his voice can dictate new paths for old ideas. And to that end, More Than Animals can only be considered a success (except for that last song. I don’t know, you guys).

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