LN’s Monkeys & Spoons Is a Masterpiece of Mood and Atmosphere (Review)

LN’s first album in almost a decade uses haunting lyrics and arrangements to explore loss and sorrow.
Monkeys & Spoons - LN

It’s been almost a decade since Gary Murray last released music under the LN moniker. (That would be 2013’s self-released Minor Lives.) In 2014, Murray put his music career on hold in order to care for his disabled parents and focus on painting. But following his mother’s death in 2020, Murray relaunched LN and, reuniting with previous collaborators, began recording what would become Monkeys & Spoons. The album was finished the day of his father’s burial, when Murray sent off the masters to Velvet Blue Music (which has released almost all of Murray’s and LN’s music to date).

Knowing all of that, it should come as no surprise that Monkeys & Spoons is a somber listen. Although Murray claims that these nine songs weren’t directly inspired by his parents’ deaths, it’s hard not to glimpse the specter of mortality looming over every single one of the album’s 51 minutes when he sings “It seems I’ve reached the point/Of less days ahead than behind” (“So You May Find Me When I’m Lost”) or “I still hear you in the void/Whispering goodbye” (“The Void / Melancholia of Departure”).

Granted, LN albums have always been moody, melancholy affairs, but Monkeys & Spoons is something else entirely. The more I listen to it, the more I’m convinced that it’s the perfect “sitting all alone in your darkened house at 1:00am” album. Such albums always run the risk of navel-gazing and solipsism, of being gloomy simply for the sake of being gloomy. There’s no such risk here.

True, there’s nary a ray of light in Murray’s lyrics, and what few bright moments there are, are bittersweet and suffused with nostalgia. But given everything that Murray’s experienced in the last few years, his words contain undeniable emotional truth. When he sings about “nights when you’re afraid,” realizes that “the sole companion of smoke is all that you are now” or observes that “Words cut like daggers, leave scars across your heart/Will never do the damage that a real blade does,” you feel the weariness and sorrow in that rich-yet-subtle baritone of his. (Lars Gotrich once described it as “Chris [Isaak], but raised on ’90s albums released on Kranky,” which is pretty spot on.)

LN’s elegant arrangements and ghostly atmospherics — which evoke everything from Bark Psychosis and Starflyer 59 to Pinetop Seven and Zelienople — further seal the deal. Monkeys & Spoons overflows with lush sonics, from the languid, reverb-drenched guitars that appear on practically every song (as if I’d ever complain about “too much” reverb) to the eerie electronics and shimmering pools of ambience to even the manner in which Murray layers his own vocals into an otherworldly choir. (Album highlights include “A Game of Damage,” “So You May Find Me When I’m Lost,” and the murky instrumental “A Soft Landing.”)

For all of this lushness, though, Monkeys & Spoons never feels over-produced. It always remains a supremely intimate album, one that feels like it was composed in the middle of the night, when the rest of the world was asleep and Murray was alone with his thoughts and grief. The real beauty and power of Monkeys & Spoons is that it puts you there, too, ruminating on life, love, and loss whilst surrounded by some of 2022’s most haunting songwriting.

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