Stoney – More Than Animals
Release Date: January 14, 2014
Record Label: Self-Released
By the time I publish this review, it will be almost mid-November, which, for most of us music fans, means one thing: “album of the year” lists. Yes, it’s that time of year again, a time marked by attempts to listen to all of the records we missed throughout the year (spoiler alert: I fail) and by an excessive number of Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, iTunes playlists, and forum posts all meant to help us catalog our thoughts on what 2013 meant for music. However, while most of us are playing catch up and looking for this year’s last great record, it isn’t too early to start thinking about 2014 albums. More Than Animals, a super-charged collection of Brit-pop and dance rock, written and performed almost exclusively by a guy named Mark Stoney and currently scheduled for a January 14 release date, might just be next year’s first great record.
Stoney, as it turns out, is a British songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer currently living in the very American land of Austin, Texas. Stoney’s culture-clash, as well as his multi-pronged talents, both result in a veritable collision of influences on More Than Animals. None of the songs sound even remotely alike, but most of them are unreasonably catchy, begging the question of why Stoney isn’t already a global phenomenon. The songwriter lists the Arctic Monkeys as an influence (and even ended up on their iTunes celebrity playlist, suggesting that the feeling may be mutual), but in reality, Stoney actually sounds more like a myriad of classic rock acts. Just looking at a picture of the guy, with his prominent mop of dark black hair, it’s easy to compare him to the Velvet Underground and to the late Lou Reed. When Stoney sings in a softer, lower register, like at the beginning of the trippy “Bedpost” or on the album-concluding “Round Here,” that comparison is particularly valid.
But elsewhere, Stoney tosses around pieces of his record collection in a way that no one has since Foxygen did earlier this year. The latter parts of “Bedpost” sound like late-period Pink Floyd, with Stoney channeling an anguished Roger Waters delivery. “We Belonged,” with its acoustic arrangement and hushed vocal, might as well be an outtake from Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends, while “House of Mirrors” provides a decent picture of what it would be like if Neil Young ever made a 1980s new wave record. Meanwhile, traces of Morrissey, Pulp, the Psychedelic Furs, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Kinks, Elliott Smith, Paul McCartney, and Tom Waits litter the interim—sometimes all in the same song.
But despite its explosion of influences and its shape-shifting mentality, More Than Animals is often best when at its most straightforward and conventional. Take “Albatross,” a melancholic piece of acoustic folk whose climactic build—with a pounding drum crescendo two-thirds of the way through—feels powerful, cathartic, and completely earned (“I stopped believing I could change,” Stoney belts over the crashing coda, his regret piercing through the recording). Similarly, the penultimate ‘Wanderlust” is a reverb-drenched lullaby that would fit perfectly on a night-time drive playlist alongside My Morning Jacket, Fleet Foxes, and Night Beds, my favorite breakout artist of 2013. As for the album’s best song, that title belongs to “Defiantly Loved,” a darkly foreboding but blissfully hooky number that collides the arena-bound energy of a Coldplay song with the grim dancehall venues of the Killers’ debut. Add some poppy harmonies torn straight from the last Shins record, and you have mix that sounds bizarre on paper, but works perfectly in execution.
From the careening psychedelia of “Sweet Release” to the bizarre southern rock of “Round Here,” More Than Animals is one of the most diverse and enjoyable records I’ve heard in a long time. It’s always a pleasure to press play on an unfamiliar artist for the first time and feel completely at home in their sound. With the number of different sonic sides on display throughout this record, it’s not hard to imagine virtually any listener with a soft spot for classic rock feeling similarly and finding something to love here. As little more than homage, this record would be worth a listen; with Stoney’s emotion and craft, the proceedings become essential. Suffice to say that, if we’re picking out artists most likely to break out and hit the big time in 2014, I want this guy on my list.