Attack The Monolith is a record of two eras and none: a decade ago, the first tracks for the album were recorded before a hiatus, and now the whole LP redux’d sees the light of day. But in many ways the bare bones production lends the music a timeless quality, and there’s an etherealism and definite nerd cockiness to the whole affair that pulls you in from the start.
To understand the world of Mongrels, a little background knowledge is required. At the core of the album are Sheffield duo Kid Acne and Benjamin: street artist Kid Acne’s work speaks for itself, an alternate world all unto its own which you may have glimpsed on late night Channel 4 in the Zebra Head cartoon (Jarvis Cocker as the sun, Task Force’s Chester P and Farma G as character Ruffy Tumbles and Tuffy Rumbles respectively, that kind of thing), in murals on walls around the world in his unmistakable style, and recently as part of Scorzayzee’s long awaited debut. His album Romance Ain’t Dead is one of Lex Records’ quirkiest, and he has a solid body of rap work outside of that. Benjamin Hatton has spent years as part of the Finders Keepers crew, DJs digging the rare, weird and geographically specific. Having met in the mid ‘90s over a shared love of rap and graff, they put out music between 1997 and 2002 as Mongrels, supporting the leftfield likes of Flying Lotus, El-P and Antipop Consortium before going on the aforementioned hiatus in order for Acne to focus on the success of his art.
‘Where you been son? We been listening to Steam Punk. Program drums like it ain’t never been done… Strong captains, the rap phenomenon / You read about us in the Necronomicon’ – Aztec Futuristic
Fast-forward to 2015 and a bust-up knee resulted in the artist digging up recordings for this album from the mid 2000s and being as relevant as ever. What else to do but get back on it?
Mongrels, then, is best listened to through an audio kaleidoscope pointed at this bizarro world. Completing the trifecta with a growly resonance is Sebash aka Sebastian Laws, one third of early nineties New York psych hip-hop outfit New Kingdom. Appearing on ten out of the album’s twelve cuts, he’s as vital a cog as the main protagonists, his NY drawl an interesting contrast to Kid Acne’s northern tones. Over the course of the album we’re guided through a journey with barefoot werewolves, Ulysses 31, celestial stylings, the murderous undead, the Crystal Maze, the Ready Brek forcefield and raps about raps. Everyone’s firing on all cylinders, Benjamin’s choice drums in attack mode and as tight as you like throughout, minimalistic chords adding plenty of weird atmosphere. Kid Acne is brilliantly staccato, word association throwing up all sorts of hilarious pairings (‘Yo, don’t forget the Haitians, check the shipping forecast for your local station/ Bring back Crucial FM, if you dunno what that is, blood, I can’t be your friend,’ he laments on single Full Moon/Half Moon – to keep you in the loop, Crucial was Lenny Henry’s late ’80s pirate station on his TV show). Each and every track is DIY, home-brewed and a little bit dark. Juice Aleem (of futuristic crew New Flesh) and Lord Rao (of Strange U) bring their distinctive personalities to a couple of tracks, lending more variation and weight to proceedings.
Its lo-fi eccentricity might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but neither is tea. Attack The Monolith brings that old school flavour, through a South Yorkshire, geek-led and charmingly mystical filter, the punk Adventure Time of hip-hop that’s missing from your life. Vital!