(Hot Gem Records, released Fri 21 Apr 2017 on digital download)
2016 was a busy old year for Julie Fern Crawford, also known as Monkoora. The 23-year-old Helensburgh multi-instrumentalist not only released her debut mini-LP Pale Slopes and played her first live gigs, she also wrote the music for four short movies made by the charity Rape Crisis, featured on BBC The Social and picked up a nomination for the Best Newcomer gong at the Scottish Alternative Music Awards. Now, she’s back with her second offering, a six-track EP named Nuclear BB.
The title is a nod to her hometown of Helensburgh, where she grew up in the shadow of neighbouring Faslane naval base, home to the UK’s horde of nuclear submarines. Such proximity to WMDs has imbued a sense of righteous indignation in Crawford, which comes through strongly in her lyrics. “It’s really important for musicians to talk about things like this,” she tells The Skinny. “Music is the art form for me, and for everyone really – it’s in the air. You need to get your opinions out. Music is so direct; people get it right away.”
The overt politicism of her lyrics is immediately apparent on album opener Bocx Wurld, which disguises a harangue against the overly materialistic world we inhabit inside an all-too-saccharine package of bubblegum pop. The song was apparently penned by Crawford when she was just seventeen years old and though it does, as she herself insists, remain every bit as relevant six years on, the idealism of the lyrics (not to mention the frivolity of the melody itself) betray her tender age at the time.
Giant White Hs continues this one-woman fight to right the wrongs of society as she insists “I was born to be a cyst that would just exist and be blacklisted / I was born to be a cyst on the side of this geopolitical divide”, with the outrage delivered in a less bouncy, more mature-sounding melody this time. The next two tracks take pause for breath from the soapbox as she muses about Vaping on Trains and Repelling Radio, with the latter track being a reference to the tinnitus from which she suffers. Despite its rather mundane subject matter, the arrangement here is Monkoora’s most accomplished work and wouldn’t at all be out of place on a Sylvan Esso album.
However, any doubts that the album would expend all of its postmodern angst are immediately dispelled by final track Stradallin the Fence, a breathless, spiky rampage against warmongers at home and abroad. “I’ll never be a patriot, I’ll never be a slave / To a system that runs wars against the human race” she rages, calling fallen soldiers “scumbags” and revealing once again an uncompromising but somewhat naïve worldview which takes no prisoners. This clodhopping is accompanied by growled lyrics and bouncy pop riffs to leave the listener slightly bewildered at its abrupt climax.
Many fans complain of artists losing their rawness or becoming too polished as they gain a more mainstream audience. Monkoora is in the novel position of being both too raw and too polished at the same time; melodically, her songs seem to be geared towards a national radio audience, full as they are of rounded edges and catchy hooks. Her lyrics, meanwhile, are sometimes so simplistically abrasive that they cry out for further percolation. Either way, Crawford has the beginnings of a promising music career under her belt – and perhaps an even more promising one as a social activist underway.