Tim Ashton, Athene Roberts and Jamie Waters, otherwise known as 3 Daft Monkeys, have been working on their blend of Balkan,Â Celtic, reggae, Spanish, punk-infused folk for more than a decade now. They are, in a sense, the UK’s answer to the also superb American folk trio Nickel Creek, but though equally adept at crafting a heady mix of influences into folk songs, the 3 Daft Monkeys are also known for their ferocious and uplifting live shows.
Neither is it a mean feat for a folk band to have been as successful, not least because they have insisted on doing it without ever signing to a label. They have avoided mainstream attention and have committed to extensive touring and the hard work that goes along with it. It’s no surprise, then, to see their music developing with a bredth and maturity not often allowed in an industry that has grown used to bands, at the pressure of their labels, pumping out albums every 18 months.
As album titles go, The Antiquated & The Arcane, due for release on 1 November, could well be a comment on this very culture, suggesting theirs is music that is considered too old-fashioned to be fashionable, and playfully sneering at the esoteric and inaccessible industry of ‘cool’. In keeping with their ability to craft serious sentiments against the otherwise jaunty and upbeat, The Antiquated & The Arcane captures the happy-go-lucky charm of 3 Daft Monkeys’ music with the most impressive collection of songs they’ve released to date.
The title track and album opener quickly shows an elevated embrace of production on this record, with haunting reverb and a processed guitar that make allusions to Emerson, Lake and Palmer and 60s/early-70s progressive rock. By the time ‘The Antiquated & The Arcane’ has jumped into its Balkan jig, the slick and taught production has grasped the essence of 3 Daft Monkeys’ diversity. The production remains consistent across the record, capturing with clarity the varying influences weaved throughout.
Album highlight ‘Perfect Stranger‘ typifies the maturity on offer here – and mix of flamenco, celtic folk and pop that avoids completely appearing forced or premeditated, merging both the haunting and the jaunty sounds that 3 Daft Monkeys are capable of. The melodic interplay on ‘Casualties of Tour‘ and the gorgeous climax on ‘She Said‘ add moments of real distinction that, in the hands of other bands, such wide-ranging influences would drown.
It’s not all plain sailing – the easy lyrics and ‘la la la’ refrains of ‘Under One Sun‘ are too sweet to be palatable in the midst of such earthy quality elsewhere. Equally so for ‘Time to Evolve‘, which, although admirably observed, lacks any self-awareness of its trite language – “We are such little creatures / hiding from our own reflection / and the monsters in our head. / We still fight with our brothers / who will get to feed off our mother? / She’s food enough for all”. The slow dub of penultimate track ‘Love (sic) Fool‘ leaves them guilty of trying to do too much, lulling by wearily, rather than providing the change of pace I imagine was intended.
But these low points are few, and The Antiquated & The Arcane is an upbeat, wide-ranging delight, full of character, colour and vibrancy that should also provide fuel for their continuing commitement to gigging. They’re on tour from 23 October and right through November, so check their website for full details.
The Antiquated & The Arcane is available on CD and for Download from 1 November. Update – and it’s now on Spotify!
1. The Antiquated And The Arcane
2. Under One Sun
3. Just A Ride
4. Doors Of Perception
5. Days Of The Dance
6. Perfect Stranger
7. Time To Evolve
8. Casualties Of Tour
9. Civilised Debauchery
10. She Said
11. Love (sic) Fool
12. Love Life