From keg-side pickups ("Todd + the Halloween Girl") to magical moments lost ("Chino's Song"), The Monologue Bombs' Beverages & Ghosts is littered with castoffs and the lonely disheartened in the first third of their life. Scott Phillips plays piano and organ over character sketches that unfold in stops, starts and torrents. He carefully unwinds heartache, a patient angler working a familiar lure. Be they the country-tinged epic of diverging paths ("Jason's Song") or the '70s soft-rock piano ballad ("Shadow Tagger") with its echo of Gordon Lightfoot, Phillips populates his narratives with detailed, soft-focus images of somber disillusionment.
Though the writing is generally sharp, the sentiments get a little monochromatic over the course of the album. While not everything is as dramatically pitched as the Springsteen-ish "Corner Lights," which keenly conjures "some dirty rendezvous in amber parking lots/ the neon's kicking in and jasmine's in the air/ some knuckles brush a knee and linger there," there's a surfeit of tension. Phillips—already familiar to some as Goner's frontman—is at his best here on the rollicking roots-rave "Musn't Touch" and the accordion-driven "Floaters & Empties." On those tracks, there's a free-spirited abandon, highlighted by the latter's passionate remembrances.
The Monologue Bombs play Vintage21 in Raleigh Friday, Feb. 1, at 8 p.m. and Thursday, Feb. 21, at 9 p.m. at Nightlight in Chapel Hill.