Is it an EP or is it an album? I'll come to that later but more importantly... it's new Liquid music so who cares?!
Either way, with 8 new tunes on limited edition double vinyl (accompanied by a free digital download), this is Liquid's biggest release since 2017's glorious Energy Flows. Given that Energy Flows was such a strong album how does Space Monkey compare? Well, very differently as it happens - but thankfully only in terms of content, certainly not quality.
Space Monkey is a great collection of tunes and yet quite different to what we've come to expect from Liquid. Tonally, opening tune "Good Love" is the only close relation to Energy Flows with it's warm strings, lush pianos and 91/92-inspired bass riff. Interestingly it's also the only Space Monkey tune that could be described as a "vocal" track - from here on in things get a little tougher...
The ominous opening bars of second track "Monofunction" set the scene for what's to come before giving way to rolling breaks and the deepest sub-bass - this is uncompromising breakbeat hardcore and no surprise that Luna-C counts it as one of his favourites. "Monofunction" is the first sign that Space Monkey isn't going to be 'Energy Flows - Part 2'.
One aspect of Space Monkey that's clearly identifies it as the work of Liquid is the influence of dub. Three tracks in particular - "Ghost Shadow", "Clerkenwell Sound" and the aptly-titled "Double Ended Dub" - all showcase the passion and dub-tinged creativity that gave birth to seminal rave classic "Liquid is Liquid".
"Ghost Shadow" is a beautiful tune with so many textures - beginning with a minor-key opener moving onto a full-on proto-jungle banger via the sounds of a ghostly hoover and a warm but melancholic string breakdown!
"Clerkenwell Sound" maintains the dub influence and with it's ragga vocal samples and reggae breakdown is the closest to pure jungle that you'll find on Space Monkey. When "Clerkenwell Sound" lets rip it's an unadulterated blend of chopped Amens and bass as deep as your speakers can handle. A personal favourite of mine, "Clerkenwell Sound" is sure to be destroying dancefloors in 2019.
"Double-Ended Dub", being the closing tune, wraps things up nicely with it's blend of hardcore breaks, ragga vocals and a reverb that goes for miles! Featuring (whether intentional or not) aural callbacks to some of the album/EP's earlier tracks you can't help but feel that Liquid put everything into this one - a great way to finish.
Yes, with the above-mentioned jungle influences Space Monkey certainly features a few darker-sounding Liquid tracks than we've been accustomed to but that's not the whole picture. There's light and shade here and "Lovesick" is a perfect example of this.
"Lovesick" lives in the space between hardcore and jungle where frenetic beats and stabbing rave riffs meet atmospheric pads and dream-like vocal samples. It captures that very specific quality of early-nineties hardcore where the darker elements of jungle were creeping in but riffs and breakdowns were still staples of the scene.
You might have gathered by now that I consider this a success but that's before I even tell you that Space Monkey features two of my favourite Liquid tracks to date - "The Habit I Can't Quit" and "Illicit".
"The Habit I Can't Quit" is a deep, rolling, breakbeat-behemoth led by a simple yet catchy riff; all under-pinned by an hypnotic Apache break and rib-rattling bassline. This is a tune that gets in your head and demands to be put on repeat - I defy anyone to not move to this. My only complaint is that even at five and a half minutes long it's still not long enough!
I consider "Illicit" to be a partner tune to "The Habit I Can't Quit" in so much as it has a similar hypnotic quality if nothing else. It's atmospheric and uplifting opening just builds and builds before eventually breaking free with a beautiful blend of breaks and bass. "Illicit" is a progressive breakbeat track that discards conventional structure in favour of layering different sounds and textures that build to give the track real emotional depth. Love it.
An EP is a collection of tunes. An album is a cohesive collection of tunes. For that reason I choose to consider Space Monkey to be an album. Even more pleasingly it just happens to be a great one and a worthy successor to Energy Flows. Space Monkey is a mature album from start to finish. It's different to what we might expect but this is an artist that's more than earned their right to subvert expectations.
This is a great album - treat yourself.