Colchester alt-hip-hop group Monster Florence dissect the dystopian state of the world through lyrical tricks and commendable beats on their new album Master System. This record ultimately demonstrates how underrated they are.
“In a world where you can be anyone, who will you become?” an android voice asks at the end of Master System’s moody, synth-led opener, ‘Widow’. It’s one of the few thought-provoking ideas that spring forth from six-member-strong Monster Florence’s latest album, a record which posits more questions than it answers (and which shows there’s strength in doing so, than an arrogant know-all attitude).
In fact, with the ever-increasing advancement of modern technology being the album’s core theme, Master System feels like a welcome invitation to the Colchester outfit’s smoke session as you listen to their musings on the world’s current state of play.
There’s plenty to chew the fat over, too. When Monster Florence first got to work on the album, there wasn’t a title in mind. But after writing tracks like the pounding ‘Bad Graphics’ and lo-fi, reference-heavy ‘Lag’ (“Falling out of love we are Aaliyah and Dame Dash … / Sweet like Zack and Cody want a simple life”), the overarching theme of the digital era began to take shape.
This was then artistically solidified by the work of artist Scribbler, who produced the resplendent album cover that depicts Adam and Eve as androids in the Garden of Eden. It’s a fitting image for an album that contemplates the present technological occurrences with a philosophical, enduring gaze. The album’s relevance has only increased as more developments emerged since its inception, from the vast online activity during the pandemic to NFTs, the Metaverse and, most recently, ChatGPT.
Indeed, there are moments of the sexual bragging typically associated with the rap scene – most obviously on ‘Midnight Club’ (“I got both hands on your girl / But I do not kiss ‘n tell”) and subsequent tune ‘Jiggy Jiggy’ (“Tell’um keep your hands / Honey on her waistline / Money, tryna make mine”). But these are a rarity on an album which is otherwise hugely cerebral and underpinned by tight production work.
It’s also a record that varies in tone and genre, much like the wide assortment of Monster Florence’s members. ‘Widow’, for instance, is where you mostly hear the futuristic sounds of the Blade Runner and Total Recall sci-fi films that creatively informed the project.
By contrast, ‘Borstal’ sounds almost like Bakar or Finn Foxell with its plodding beat and cheeky-chappie lyricism (Alex Osiris’ refrain “Is the ashtray full or is the ashtray half empty?” could come straight out of Mike Skinner’s notepad); even if its subject matter reflects on being perpetually stuck in a cycle of bad habits, as in the track’s namesake.
Dream Mclean’s bars on the opening of ‘Spaceman’, midway through the album, represent some of the best flow on Master System; how he begins a line with the ultimate cliché “I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it” and somehow makes it work is laudable.
‘Tin Foil Girl’ and ‘Wolf In A Woolly Hat’ are the most potent, emotive tunes overall. The former combines the image of tin foil to tackle two societal issues at once: drug-taking and believing everyone you read in your online bubble; the latter makes full use of Monster Machine’s USP as a hip-hop collective with the musical firepower of a band, flanked by Tom Donovan (production, guitars, keys), Jonny Poole (sax, keys, guitar) and Cameron Morrell (drums).
And therein lies the brilliance of this somewhat criminally underrated group: where many artists and bands strive, and occasionally struggle, to be genre-fluid, Monster Machine indeed are, blending genres with an authentic potency. Master System isn’t just an exploration of the world around us, but one where they seem to have genuinely found themselves amidst it all.