Monophona are a trip-hop group with an interesting origin story. Initially starting out as a duo, the founding members had remarkably different musical backgrounds. The first half, Claudine Muno, started as a singer-songwriter who had been touring with a folk-rock band, the other half, Philippe Schirrer, aka Chook, began as a DJ and turntable artist who had also made a name for himself as a Drum and Bass producer. The two came together, unfamiliar of the others musical roots and influences, but eager to explore new musical areas and search for a shared musical taste. When they decided to tour their music, taking it out into the live world, the duo became a trio as Jorsch Kass joined them on drums and percussion. Kass brought with him new and interesting details to their sound and so he became an invaluable member of the group due to his enthusiasm and broad musical knowledge. Their debut album titled ‘The Spy’ was released back in the winter of 2012 and collected a considerable amount of international attention. Many commended the group including Laurent Garnier and Fink, and their most recent single ‘Thumb’ has been creating a buzz on Amazing Radio in the UK. ‘Black on Black’ is their second full-length album and so far there have been three singles released from it. Two tracks, ‘Ribbons’ and the title track ‘Black on Black’ were released back in October 2014, and ‘Thumb’ was released on January 6th 2015. The group has said that this album comes with a different feel to their debut, which was heavily produced in a studio environment, and they have said that the sound found on the new album has been heavily influenced by what the band has discovered and learnt whilst touring and playing live.
RELEASE DATE: 30 January 2015 LABEL: Kapitän Platte
‘Black on Black’ is an album that puts across an assortment of different feelings and atmospheres and there is a variation throughout the album with how the songs sound and the ambiance they produce. There are songs with a more upbeat quality that evolve and explore with a lot going on in them, and then there are also much more laidback and sparse tracks that present a completely different feel musically to the upbeat tracks, a colder, more despairing feel.
The opening track, ‘Black on Black’ gives an impression of what is to come and presents a good snapshot of this variation that is found throughout the album. Opening with a stripped back and restrained feel, a heartbeat like drum and meandering low bass synth play out as Muno’s vocals hum hypnotically above, a rather laidback and spare beginning to the album, and an atmosphere that is returned to in later songs. It’s not long though before this is replaced by a big deep droning bass that pulsates below the vocals and then, after being joined by a breakbeat drum line, we are introduced to the other atmosphere that is found in the album, a more agitated and upbeat feel where there is always something going on and new elements are being introduced throughout.
This opening track certainly gives a good summary of what can be found in the album, which features both upbeat and frantic tracks as well as sparse laidback tracks, and in the second song, ‘Thumb’, we find a full example of the upbeat side of the group as well as finding the folk background that they hold. Featuring plucking acoustic guitar loops and jazzy drumbeats the song proves to be an interesting variation on the classic trip-hop song, and combining this with Muno’s hypnotic vocals we are treated to an upbeat but mesmerising trip. ‘Forest of wonders’ is another example of the upbeat and busy song that the group can produce, a song with a house feel, it features a straight drumbeat alongside an oscillating synth line that evolves and shifts throughout. Again, this busier sound is found in ‘All Downhill’ a vigorous song that builds up with blocks of different elements, at times breaking apart to then return revitalised and stronger than before with new elements layering and working around each other the whole time.
In contrast there are also the sparser tracks. They still have a trip-hop feel, with breakbeat drum lines or deep commanding bass on the lower levels, but they don’t do as much meandering or building as the more upbeat tracks do, they don’t have as many layers and there isn’t the element of new loops or sounds being introduced throughout. To an extent they are simpler compositions, songs that set themselves into a groove early and retain the groove throughout, but through this barer sound they can feel more striking and emotive than the other songs with heaps of atmosphere. For example ‘Yes Yes’ presents a much more downtempo, chilled out air, with the song setting itself into a steady groove early on allowing Muno’s vocals to eerily play out above. ‘A mole like a breadcrumb’ is another example of a song that, though restrained, oozes atmosphere. It’s a stripped back affair that presents a thin piano line, solitary drums clicking away in the background, guitar that washes around and despondent and reserved vocals, it is a beautiful and blunt track that, with its room, allows the listener to get lost in what is a very emotive and moving song.
What is noteworthy about Monophona is the combination of several differing musical roots coming together to create songs that are definitely intriguing, and ‘Black on Black’ is a perfect example of how this fusion of genres can work together. It is fair to say that there is a classic trip-hop feel to the album, at times reminiscent of Lamb or Portishead, but there is a further exploration that makes the album an interesting listen. There is the house element that comes through on ‘Forest of wonders’ for example or the constant folk feeling shining through everything, with the use of acoustic instruments, plucking guitars and wonderful vocals that harmonise throughout. It is the mix of acoustic and electronic that makes the album so interesting and what helps to create the huge amounts of atmosphere that the album has, whether that’s in the upbeat tracks or the calmer numbers.