The past is a vital component of I Am the Cosmos’ Monochrome. The debut album from this Dublin-based electronic duo largely takes place between the industrious experimentation of ’70s motorik and lo-fi re-appropriations of ’80s pop. Ross Turner and Cian Murphy lean more so towards their avant-garde influences, and a relentless percussive momentum forms the bedrock of the record, grounding the more frivolous musical aspects – erratic, bouncing keyboards, occasional slap bass – in Teutonic persistence.
‘Lost Rhythm’ and ‘Leaving/The Shift’ bookend Monochrome and are very clearly the work of an act enthralled with the accumulative rhythms of Europe Endless and the wider Kraftwerk canon. Though, ironically enough, ‘Lost Rhythm’ is little more than defiantly monotonous rhythm, there is room for a thin, wailing guitar line (reminiscent of Berlin-era Bowie of course), while ‘Leaving/The Shift’ has some fun with drum machines and staccato guitar that inject the album’s climax with bounding energy, rarely heard on the rest of the album. Meanwhile, the three track continuum of ‘Wide Awake’, ‘Look Me in the Eye’ and ‘Monochrome’ share an affinity for the Instagram’d nostalgia peddled by the likes of Twin Shadow while toning down the more shallow aspects of plastic ’80s pop in favour of subdued haziness, which still sadly lacks in substance and excitement.
Monochrome is a deceptively cautious and self-contained album, but this is not instantly apparent. The seemingly oppositional musical styles and philosophies at play on the album – one born of dedicated, artistic curiosity in West Germany, the other of celebration and decadence in the UK and US – work perfectly well together and are effectively entwined at times, making for an often satisfying listen; however, ‘Esque’, featuring Cloud Castle Lake frontman Daniel McAuley, makes it abundantly clear how small these genre-blending ambitions actually are.
Comprised of ticking guitars and stadium-sized keyboards, ‘Esque’ sees I Am the Cosmos rising to the challenge posed by McAuley and his astonishing vocal range. The vocals on Monochrome are largely submerged in the music and do their best to go unnoticed, but McAuley’s voice sounds otherworldly on ‘Esque’, reaching notes that probably don’t exist and forcing Turner and Murphy to abandon their comfort zone in favour of a more expansive sound.
Even if ‘Esque’ is the album’s undoubted centrepiece, it is not an anomaly but the highlight of a strong closing half – the whirring glow of ‘Dislocate’ and the surprisingly danceable ‘Take What You Want’ rival ‘Esque’ for quality without McAuley’s auxiliary assistance. And although those final four tracks are also undeniably of the past in their compositional elements, Turner and Murphy are clearly reaching beyond refracted imitation with growing confidence and tantalisingly promise something more forward-thinking next time around.
Download Monochrome here.