Not too long ago, I Monster released Rare and Remixed, companion compilations to their second album Neveroddoreven (2003), containing lots of excellent surprises and hidden treasures. Last year they followed these up with Swarf, a collection of extra tracks and out-takes from the A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars era (2009).
First up is a beautiful pastoral track called Hey You Beautiful Land, full of birdsong and gentle chanted vocals. It doesn’t go anywhere in particular, but then neither should it – this isn’t the sort of song that’s intended to hit the number one spot. It leads gently into Colourspill, which is the first of a couple of truly amazing tracks. It takes a little time to get going, but when it does it’s definitely up there with I Monster‘s finest.
Checkout Luv was previously released, in slightly different form, on the Dear John EP, and yet again on this release it’s very special indeed. Not many acts record songs about alien checkout girls, and even fewer make them this wonderful.
Many of the tracks here don’t quite reach those dizzy heights – Early Morning Robert, Food for the Sea, and Magic Man are all good, but clearly wouldn’t have quite been good enough to pass muster on A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars.
She Sucks is the second of the particularly excellent hidden gems, and easily deserved to be on the full album. It plods on somewhat, with a dark and slightly grimy energy, but as with all of I Monster‘s best moments, the eccentric production is only a part of the package – there’s a great song in there too.
The final trio – The Holy Man, The Priest’s Tale and A New All Powerful Brain – hide relatively few surprises. As before, all three are good songs, but they weren’t destined to set the world alight. So Swarf is entirely the right place to collect them together – the less special tracks sit alongside a couple of real gems. And every so often, even a song such as The Holy Man packs a bit of a punch, such as in the middle section, where you might well find yourself uncontrollably nodding along in time.
I Monster are clearly one of our national treasures, and with only three full-length albums under their belt in a little over fifteen years any extra material should be regarded as very welcome indeed. And while Swarf may lack the pile of hidden specialities that Rare had kept to itself, it’s still a pretty strong collection, and it’s definitely worth owning.
You can find Swarf on Bandcamp here.