Michael Tomlinson handed me his EP, Monstrum, in a brown paper bag. The CD itself was decorated just with Tomlinson's name scribbled in Sharpie. The song list was on a small slip of paper stuffed into the bag. Needless to say, I expected Monstrum to be a rough, acoustic, GarageBand recording. As soon as the intro kicked in with a heavy bass and an opera singer, though, I realized I was in for a completely different musical experience.
Tomlinson combines the creativity and intensity of Bon Iver with the softness of an acoustic singer playing at a coffee shop. His EP ranges from mild to passionate and powerful, all songs incorporating beautiful music and expressive lyrics.
The intro gives way to "Monster," a song that sums up the theme of the entire CD. The guitar work is masterful and the words whisper a mixture of desperateness and acceptance that sets a pondering tone.
The beginning of "Oh, No!," the third track, holds much the same tone as the second song, but more upbeat strumming gives way to rhythmic clapping and a chorus with dance-appeal.
The heart of the Monstrum rests with "Untitled," a name completely appropriate for the song. With lyrics like "I will lead the heart straight out of your chest," the listener is encouraged to fall deep within their own thoughts as Tomlinson seems to fall deep within his.
Following "Untitled" is "Zombie," a song that Tomlinson introduced at a live show as being about his fear of a zombie apocalypse.
"In movies we are always like 'just shoot them already!' but then I started wondering 'could I actually shoot someone I loved?'" said Tomlinson.
The lyrics are both tragic and comical, but fast-paced guitar and tambourine beg a frantic tone. Tomlinson's music encourages the listener to envision his or her own potential zombie-apocalypse experience.
Almost as though Tomlinson wants the reader to calm down after the intensity of "Zombie," "Veins" combines quiet strumming with a voice that's barely above a whisper. The song serves as an interlude between the excitement of "Zombie" and the pure magnificence of the finale, "Sirens."
"Sirens" is what one would call a musical experiment that turned out flawless. The basics of Tomlinson's soft guitar work and introspective lyrics are layered with powerful bass halfway through the song and haunting, beautiful opera singing in the background.
Monstrum leads listeners through a musical journey, allowing each person to take away a different part of what Tomlinson has to offer. The EP is not only dynamically ordered; it is passionately played with profound lyrics that bring together a myriad of thoughts regarding humanity and the interplay between emotions and their expression through music. Tomlinson's EP can be found in its entirety on iTunes by searching 'Michael Tomlinson Monstrum.'