One of the many magical things about reviewing music on a site like this is that it keeps you fresh, your eyes always open and looking for the next shiny thing rather than finding your five or six gems and sticking with them. When there’s a site and a podcast to keep updating, you look for things to fill it. Often, that leads to you listening to things that make your ears hurt and your brain bleed – make you question why you bother to do this when you aren’t even being paid. But at other times, you find something like Museum of Love. If it wasn’t for my extremely time consuming hobby, I may never have seen the weird, creepy face on the album cover – let alone allowed that creepy face to compel me to give it a listen. That would have meant me missing out on one of 2021’s most captivating LPs.
Opening with an eight minute song that is entirely based around an almost metronomic piece of percussion is a brave move, and as the occasional burst of shrill saxophone is added in alongside the monotone vocal of ‘Your Nails Have Grown’ it feels like you are being invited into an altogether sinister world. But this move feels even braver when the album bursts into life with the title song. We’re almost immediately shown the artifice of the album opener, like someone hiding behind the mask on the cover, as a much more energetic and free feel enters the room. ‘Life of Mammals’ has cryptic, elliptical lyrics about living with wolves and rabbits that eat their young. But on the surface it is a bop, a song you can’t help but move your shoulders to. And that monotone voice of track one also shows itself to be a lie, as the vocalist undulates all over the place and builds to a crescendo all of his own.
From this point on, the album never rests. It’s hard to pick out standout songs to tell you about when each has something new, something unique, to make it stake its claim for the album highlight. Be it the glitchy feel of ‘Marching Orders’, the anthemic opening of ‘Hotel At Home’, or the synth-laden intensity and brooding vocals of ‘Flat Side’. Even when the album feels like it’s making its first misstep, with the opening line of ‘Ridiculous Body’ giving the indication that we’re about to listen to a few minutes of creepery, that fear is put to bed almost immediately. This turns into a song that isn’t about the sexual attractiveness of its subject but, instead, about the magic and wonder of the human body and all the things it can do. It’s a fascinatingly weird song that rumbles along over a crunchy guitar and percussion that would fit in on a Paul Simon album.
But even though it’s hard to pick out the highlights, I’m still going too. ‘Army Of Children’ slows this album down as we draw towards the end, after almost no room to breathe since the opener, but the way it gradually builds from a spoken word intro to an absolute outburst is totally involving. And in an album that prides itself on its obscurity, this song has the clearest intention in its words. It talks about growing older, seeing things change around you, and accepting this at every step. ‘Cluttered World’ is another showstopper. This album is full of references to music of the 70s and 80s and in a way this feels like the biggest throwback of all. But at the same time, it draws you in with its danceable bassline, its jazzy undertones, and its random bursts of guitar. I really don’t think I’ve sold that one very well, but give it a listen. I think you’ll fall in love. And then we end with ‘Almost Certainly Not You’, the only song on Life of Mammals that might be considered a ballad. It’s the most commanding vocal performance and a perfect way to close out a stunning album.
Reading back through this review, it is clear to me that I have struggled to get across exactly what the sound of this album is. It’s hard to do that with just words. If I tell you that the band is made up of Pat Mahoney from LCD Soundsystem and composer Dennis McNany, you might get a sense of the scope and creativity on show here. For me, though, the most obvious comparison for some of the songs was late career David Bowie. And as a Bowie obsessive, I don’t say that lightly. My main advice, though, is that if even one word of this review has got you intrigued then go and spend a bit of time with Life of Mammals. I was tempted in by the album cover when the folks at Record Culture shared it on Twitter. I haven’t stopped listening since.
Words by Fran Slater