Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July 14: Tanya Donelly, "Moonbeam Monkey"

Artist: Tanya Donelly
Song: "Moonbeam Monkey"
Album: Beautysleep
Year: 2002

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Achieving musical success with a single band is a tough task, regardless of the style of music being played, or the era in which it was recorded.  The musical landscape is littered with countless "could have been" bands, and similarly, many bands that did "make it big" leaves one scratching their head as to exactly how mediocre bands were able to "pass over" those with far more talent.  Taking this into account, it makes the likelihood of success with multiple bands all the more unlikely, and yet there is one performer who went one step further, and it is impossible to picture modern music without her influence.  Founding not one, but three of the most important bands in the development of "alternative rock," there are few voices that better define the style than that of the dreamy, yet powerful singing of Tanya Donelly.  From her beginnings in Throwing Muses to her transition with the early days of The Breeders to what may have been her artistic apex fronting Belly, Donelly has constantly reinvented herself, and yet the unusual, yet brilliant moods and lyrics found on her music is what makes her such an icon to this day.  After closing the books on Belly, Donelly began releasing solo records, and these albums proved to be just as musically intriguing as any of her earlier work, and they served as proof to her extraordinary talent.  In 2002, she released the album Beautysleep, and one can find what may very well be the greatest musical moment of Tanya Donelly's career in the form of the stunning song, "Moonbeam Monkey."

Regardless of which band she was playing with, one of the most consistent factors in the music of Tanya Donelly is her uncanny ability to create uniquely quirky, often dark moods.  This was one of the keys to making Belly's Star such a stunning album, and "Moonbeam Monkey" is in many ways the closest she has ever gotten to returning to that sound.  Overall, the song gives the listener a feeling of something sinister at play, perhaps in a dark forest or an empty back alley.  From the onset of the song, with the lone guitar and echoing wood-block, there is a gloomy, almost haunting feel to the song, and yet at the same time, the song is completely captivating.  This mood is enhanced about halfway through the song, when one of the most somber instruments known to man, the e-bow makes an appearance.  Both the guitar and e-bow are played by Donelly, and this represents the core of the music on "Moonbeam Monkey."  The percussion stays largely a side-note on the song, as along with the wood-block, there is only a light rhythm being dictated by a tom, and this minimalist approach in this area keeps the focus on the eerie, somewhat mysterious mood. An equally impressive keyboard loop enters the song around the same time as the e-bow, and it adds in a feeling of tension, making "Moonbeam Monkey" on the whole one of the most nervously exciting songs to ever be recorded.

Throughout her entire career. Tanya Donelly has proved to have one of the most delightfully sweet voices in history, and the way that this sound plays against the extraordinary musical textures she creates is rarely anything short of stunning.  On "Moonbeam Monkey," it is no different, as her steady, almost soothing voice plays in fantastic contrast to the somewhat sinister feel of the words and singing.  When she lets loose with her voice and uses it for more instrumental purposes than conveying words, the results are quite dramatic, and it adds to the overall feel of the song in an unparalleled manner.  Taking this mood to a truly unprecedented level, the song is very much a vocal duet, as Donelly's singing is complimented perfectly by the similarly spooky, low voice of none other than Morphine's Mark Sandman.  The way in which their voices interact remains one of the most beautiful ever recorded, and one is left to wish that the pair had done more work together.  Sandman's presence on this song make it obvious that "Moonbeam Monkey" had been sitting "on the shelf" for quite some time, as he tragically passed away nearly three years before Beautysleep was released.  Without question, the vocals on "Moonbeam Monkey" are in a class all their own, and they once again prove the ability of a more subtle approach to yield far deeper and more complete musical moods.

History proves time and time again that there are a handful of elite artists who simply have so much music to express, that they constantly find new groupings and approaches with which to convey their songs.  Supporting this idea perfectly, for nearly thirty years, Tanya Donelly has been shaping the world of "alternative" or "indie" rock, and these styles of music simply would not be the same without her contributions.  From the more aggressive sounds of Throwing Muses to the almost dreamy compositions of Belly, to the all-star lineup of The Breeders, Donelly has been the one constant factor, and her work as a solo performer adds further fuel to her revered status.  With 2002's Beautysleep, Donelly seems refreshed, and the album is packed with some of the strongest of her career, also offering a wide range of musical styles.  This ability to cross into so many different musical approaches and yet keep a consistent sound is one of the factors that sets her so far above her peers, and there is not an off moment to be found anywhere on Beautysleep.  Among many highlights, the album offers one of the most captivating compositions of Donelly's entire career, and it is nothing short of a musical treat to experience the way in which her voice weaves together with that of the late, great Mark Sandman.  Unquestionably one of the most stunning, extraordinary songs ever recorded, there is true musical bliss to be found within Tanya Donelly's magnificent 2002 song, "Moonbeam Monkey."

No comments: