Evil Monkey Man

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David Yazbek's music is grounded in a hodgepodge of performing and non-performing arts, breaching categories and genres that listeners seldom imagine working together: comedy writer, musical soundtrack composer, and confessional songwriter. The inquisitive listener might be curious but skeptical: can such disparate media be made cohesive? Yazbek's answer is Evil Monkey Man, an album that, at least during its first half, pulls together these elements with aplomb. The humor is dry, understated, and absurd. In "Terrible Thing," the narrator repeats, against a jazzy backdrop, that he has really screwed up, lightly tossing off -- in the climax -- that he is now dead, his head covered with blood and his "face stamped in clover." The titles, including "Monkey Baby Hanging on Chicken Wire" and "Bazooka Joe," hint at Yazbek's absurd outlook. He mixes up the arrangements, too, combining elements of jazz, rock, and pop, and keeping the overall soundscape intriguing. These smart qualities work less well as the album reaches the midway point, and as a result, the second half of Evil Monkey Man is less imaginative. The material that works, however, works quite well, and half of an unusual album that is unusually good is more worthwhile than the same old, same old. And Yazbek should also get credit for the cool title.

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