Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Baby Dave takes us on an emotive journey through his ‘Monkey Brain’

Perhaps better known as Slaves’ frontman, Isaac Holman just released his debut solo album, ‘Monkey Brain’, under the name Baby Dave

This album takes us on a reflective journey, not only through Holman’s mental health, but also through our own. It’s honest, authentic, and vulnerable. Holman’s willingness to let us in on his deepest thoughts is refreshing and brave given the stigma surrounding men’s mental health. Despite the fact that everyone expresses and copes differently, music is a common way to bring people together. The cohesion and straightforward nature of ‘Monkey Brain’ will touch listeners and make them feel.

At 12 tracks long and under 40 minutes, it’s the optimal length to sit down and listen to, without distraction, and fully take in Holman’s vulnerability. The record shows a completely different side to him from the heavy punk music of Slaves. It is clear he has put his heart into the record and it has undoubtedly paid off.

Most people’s mental health has suffered post-pandemic, albeit in different ways and to different extents. For Holman, this resulted in a breakdown in which he moved home with his parents. During this phase, he found his way back to songwriting and making music. Songwriting became one of his coping mechanisms, his way of letting go and expressing his emotions. This record is an outlet for him, and to know the context behind Holman’s journey makes it all the more touching. Holman himself was surprised he was still able to write given he was so unwell (CLASH). This all the more proves the power of music and the vulnerability behind the tracks.

With 5 of the 12 tracks already released as singles, this record had the potential to not bring much new or exciting material. However, many of the unreleased tracks are standout tracks and each falls perfectly into place on the record..

Instrumentally, the album feels quite stripped back, further showing Holman’s unapologetic openness with his suffering. Holman originally sent over demos recorded on his phone with his earphones mic. However, co-producer Damon Albarn loved them and worked with these original recordings. Holman now wants to prove that spending money on expensive equipment to record is not necessary and GarageBand is sufficient.

The album kicks off with a 49-second chaotic layering of quotes from fans and about their love for gardening, a hobby he picked up during his break from music. These quotes and recordings overlap with each other and feel intrusive and uncomfortable, mimicking Holman’s thoughts with OCD. This sets the tone and theme of the album. We immediately know we are being let deep into Holman’s brain and inner thoughts, and it’s clear from the get-go that it will be a very personal album.

‘Too Shy for Tennis’ was already released as a single and covers the theme of anxiety. Lyrics like “I’m not ready for that” and “Too self-conscious for that” show his honesty, openness, and vulnerability. Throughout the record, lyrics don’t start until after about 30-40 seconds of an intro with a beat and layered sounds. ‘Beautiful Princess’ feels more chaotic as Holman gets in touch with his rap roots. This song and the next, ‘29’, show Holman’s skill at songwriting and his ability to write about anything, including trivial matters. ‘29’ was written on a bus journey as a challenge to himself to see if he could write about dull, everyday things – he clearly can.

‘Washing Machine’ comes back to his OCD, intrusive overthinking and anxiety, these thoughts going “around and around”. Moving onto ‘Clarence’s Dead Dad’, the song seems fun and upbeat but with lyrics that obviously don’t match this theme. However, it works.

‘Stupid Mouth’ slows down the record, highlighting the lyrics with the noticeable contrast. Holman’s thoughts shine through in lyrics such as “My stupid mouth / Say something foolish”, “Fill myself up with doubt / Like why did I do that”, and “Why, why, why did I do this”. The repetition of “why” shows how consuming his thoughts are, and the long, slow outro lets these lyrics fully sink in. The next track is ‘Robert’, a standout on the record. The ending is particularly powerful: it represents a shutdown and pressing a reset button, the reset Holman had when he went home after his breakdown.

Following on, ‘Gen Z Baby’ introduces backing vocals, and ‘ASMR’ feels almost like a lullaby. By this point in the record it feels like we are inside Holman’s brain with lyrics like “Vibrations turn into sounds, pour out your mouth”.

The final two songs on the record are outstanding. ‘Don’t Ever Change’ feels like a personal message to reflect on yourself. The beginning encourages listeners to “stay positive, it’s not forever,” something everyone will relate to in some shape or form. This track places huge emphasis on the lyrics, “Don’t ever change / I’m not saying stay the same / Just please don’t ever change.” “Don’t ever change” is repeated, emphasising how important this phrase is to Holman. This is the most raw and emotional song on the record and it cuts deep.

The final track is the title track, ‘Monkey Brain’. This is a phrase Holman resonated with during therapy. His deeply depressed state is shown through phrases and lyrics like, “If you’re feeling under the weather / I’ll tell you one thing that won’t make it better”. Again, this track perfectly portrays how honest and open he is with his mental health struggle. The songwriting is phenomenal purely because it’s so straightforward and frank – lines like “I think too much” and “I look behind” are incredibly self-aware, highlighting how beneficial therapy has been for him. Ending with “please be kind” prompts the reflection that releasing this deeply personal record comes with immense anxiety. “Please be kind” almost seems like a nod to listeners about their feedback on the album. Being kind or being harsh, this is one of the purest and most honest records.


Serena Jemmett

@serenajemmett // @serenaj69

Image: ‘Monkey Brain’ Official Album Cover (PRESS)

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