Mono Cafe Blue, Bristol

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The Independent Culture
When Mono's debut single, "Life in Mono", came out last year, it seemed almost impossibly modish and beguilingly retro at the same time. A perfect pop song built on a slow, rumbling, trip-hoppy, dance beat, with a John Barry soundtrack sample (from The Ipcress File) forming the backdrop to a pouting female vocal, it was Portishead meets Francoise Hardy in Burt Bacharach's bio-morphic kitchen, as filmed by Richard Lester. By the time the album came out at the beginning of this month, however, the Zeitgeist had moved on and there was a danger that the group would be left wearing the conceptual equivalent of thin, black knitted ties when everyone else was into fat, silk kipper jobs. You could almost hear the sound of Burt's kitchen being stripped down for a Habitat rustic-pine re-fit. Happily, though, Mono's songs are built to last.

Scheduling their debut gig as a promo job in a bijou Bristol bar, however, may have been a mistake. You wanted the kitsch discotheque scene from a Swinging London movie starring Sammy Davis Jr and Tony Curtis; what you got was a lot of liggers swigging free lager at the bar, with the performance of the band as a sideshow. Even to call them a band is to swing the lead a bit, as Mono represents that very Nineties pairing of the shady back-room knob-twiddler and the photogenic chanteuse, with main man Martin Virgo skulking at the keyboards while singer Siobhan De Mare has to command the front of stage all by herself. There was a band of sorts - a fairly anonymous trio of guitar, bass and drums - but most of the music seemed to come direct from Virgo's console. Fortunately, De Mare both sings quite beautifully and has enough charisma to make the lager boys disappear into a Funeral in Berlin-style fog.

They played the album, more or less, and while the boys in the band smoked fags and looked cool, De Mare supplied just the right combination of sex and vulnerability. On the best songs, you could close your eyes, listen to the sample from "Get Carter" or the floating melody of "Slimcea Girl" (their next single) and imagine that it was 1968 and you were Michael Caine. This is, admittedly, quite a specialised pleasure, but Mono provide a very affecting soundtrack all the same.

Phil Johnson

Mono's album `Formica Blues' is available now on Echo Records. The single `Slimcea Girl' is released on 22 September.