Monsterhouse has gone through a slew of iterations over the years. It was originally a written prose poem, then a spoken word track released on Circle House Records, a video poem, and has been countlessly shared and performed in the stage. Now, HUMAN HEAD, the moniker of poet and writer Joshua Jones, are releasing it as a fully formed single set to Rory Padfield’s industrial and experimental production.
Monsterhouse pre-emptively questions held notions of identity; through memory and generational trauma. The track focuses on Jones’ experiences of witnessing his grandfather’s mental condition deteriorate under the firm grip of dementia. Everything that made him the person he was — a singer in an all-male Welsh choir, a soldier in Singapore during WWII, a widower — slipped away to nothing as he became an empty vessel, then a concept, a memory. The metaphor of the house interacts with the physical structure of the house in the song. As Jones’ grandfather’s mind deteriorated, and became a ghost haunting a house (the body), there were the sounds of bumps, groans, whispers, a voice trying to make itself heard.
The track was composed in lockdown over many messages, video calls and DropBox downloads, and Rory’s production samples stems from Xiu Xiu’s Isolate/Create drum loop packs. It features creeping synths, rattling sound design and melancholic guitars that perform in unison with the ebb & flow of Jones’ spoken vocals, whose strong Welsh accent prevails throughout. The video for Monsterhouse, filmed and edited by Jones, uses imagery from nature (shot in Devon and Dartmoor) and a wooden mannequin that further disquiets the viewer.
For fans of Xiu Xiu, Arab Strap, Have a Nice Life, Daughters
“I owe as much as to family and history as I do to mental health and generational trauma for this track, which began life as a poem.” – comments Joshua Jones. “I used to perform it live as a spoken word poem, with the foreword that this poem reflects upon my grandfather’s dementia, his past a member of an all-male Welsh choir, a soldier in WWII (while I am anti-war, I acknowledge the war as a part of his identity’s makeup). Monsterhouse is both a celebration of him and his memory and a haunting realisation of my own mortality, and how aging erases legacy.”
“This track is inherently Welsh, like everything I do. From my voice and cadence, to the structure of the words within the lyrics, to the lives and experiences the track recalls. As well as collaborating on music in lockdown with Rory Padfield, who produced the track, and Joe Booley (who also runs Beth Shalom Records), I also wrote a book, a collection of short stories, set in my hometown of Llanelli., and following the lives of an ensemble cast of characters. Everything I do is Welsh, and this track is no different. Home — and the idea of it — is the main inspiration for what I do. But also, what is the difference between a house and a home? When did my grandfather’s home become a house? When did his mind start to become a stranger to him?”
In the year of coronavirus, when Joshua is not writing music, reading has been his solace. “While this year has undoubtedly been a time of anxiety, bad sleep, bad health and stress, there have been a few positives.” – he explains. “I’ve channelled a lot of that energy into creativity, I finished my MA, I started a teacher training course. I started making collages and blackout Poetry for the first time over lockdown and trying to draw my ideas when I struggle to write them down. 2021 sees me continuing studying, writing and being creative. In terms of Human Head, next year I want to release some covers of songs I like, a new lockdown-inspired EP, and maybe (finally) play our first show.”
𝑊𝑒 𝑚𝑢𝑠𝑡 𝑘𝑒𝑒𝑝 𝑔𝑟𝑜𝑤𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑑𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑙𝑜𝑝𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑢𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑜𝑓 𝑜𝑢𝑟𝑠𝑒𝑙𝑣𝑒𝑠, 𝑛𝑜 𝑚𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑟 ℎ𝑜𝑤 𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑔𝑛𝑎𝑛𝑡 𝑤𝑒 𝑚𝑎𝑦 𝑐𝑢𝑟𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑙𝑦 𝑓𝑒𝑒𝑙.
Asked about his music preferences and best records of this turbulent year, Joshua says that music has been a staple throughout the year. “The entire discography of Hood, Sister by Sonic Youth, A Promise by Xiu Xiu, for example. I’ve listened to almost 400 albums released this year — some of them great, some of them bad, some of them I’m indifferent to — and lots of playlisting.”
Here are six records released in 2020 that HUMAN HEAD personally adores:
Nyx Nótt – Aux pieds de la nuit
The title translates to “At the Feet of Night”, and the project named after two mythical goddesses of the nocturnal: Nyx from Greek and Nótt from old Norse. The music was made at night and is essentially Aidan Moffatt of Arab Strap fame — one of my favourite bands, and a personal hero of mine — pissing about on synthesizers and children toys. This not-quite-ambient soundscape gently draws you in and pushes you out like a midnight wave. Make sure you listen to it at night with all the lights off.
Sorry – 925
The best indie-rock album released this year, period. No questions about it. It takes in lofi-stoner rock, grunge, indietronica, post-punk, Britpop, jazz, whatever. It’s the sound of millennial gloom and sardonic humour coupled with Asha Lorenz and Louis O’Bryen’s dynamism, who have the potential to be this generation’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Best new band in the fucking world, to be honest.
Adrianne Lenker – Songs (& Instrumentals)
I never really cared much for Big Thief or Adrianne Lenker’s solo stuff. Never got on the hype, until now. This is technically two albums, as Instrumentals is a different release, but to me they’re a package. They’re quiet, contemplative and ethereal. Lenker uses space in the music like no other, and it adds to the simplicity of the language she’s communicating, whether that’s verbal (Songs) or nonverbal (Instrumental). I feel like every time I listen to Songs & Instrumentals, I get something new out of them. A perfect companion in the quitter moments of lockdown.
The Microphones – Microphones in 2020
When this came out I think it had some mixed reviews, I think this record (or one 44 minute track, rather) felt impenetrable to some, as it is entirely dedicated to long-time fans and supporters of The Microphones, and Phil Elverum’s prolific career as a whole. But, outside of the occasional track (and obsession with Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked At Me), I went into this record without much previous experience of The Microphones.
I love every minute of this track — the repetition of the guitar melodies, the mix, the moment the drums kick in. But for me, the song’s experimentation with form is most to be admired. It’s like an ‘audio-biography’; an auto-biography in audio form. The track is a journey throughout Phil Elverum’s life and career up until now, ruminations on mental health, anxiety, observations on life-affirming moments and honestly, it’s stunning. It’s so self-aware, so contemplative, while operating on a thin line of fragility.
Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song
KLO is a former NHS nurse from North Wales and is a leading voice in ambient techno. She uses vocals on this record more so than she did on her debut, and the effect is more meditative, somehow more focused. Her version of techno is introspective and sounds like it’s searching for something; an ‘inner-song’, further understanding of the self through our experiences and environments. There is so much emotion in this music, like there should be in techno and dance music. It’s philosophical and questioning but also defiant and infectiously joyous. Also, Michael Sheen is in the video for Corner Of my Sky ft. John Cale manages to be both a comment on Welsh identity and home, but also be completely hilarious.