The Monochrome Set: Spaces Everywhere

Spaces Everywhere shows that staying on their own path has served the Monochrome Set well over time.

The Monochrome Set

Spaces Everywhere

Label: Tapete
US Release Date: 2015-03-17
UK Release Date: 2015-03-16
Label Website
Artist Website

The Monochrome Set appear to have stood apart from so many of their peers more by virtue of what they didn’t do than by what they did do. Forming in 1978 for an original run that lasted until 1985, they never quite went for the bile of punk, the starkness of post punk, or the flash of new wave. Any rebellious streak the band might have had didn’t hit on the same notes as other rebellious artists. They swam among the trends of their time, but never crawled aboard one in particular. When they subsequently reformed for the first time in the 1990s, it was already too late to be anything but themselves, had such a move even been under consideration.

In an interview with Iain McNay for Cherry Red Records’ TV program in 2008, this is how central member Ganesh Seshadri, better known simply as Bid, characterized his position on the music business after 30-odd years of working somewhere within and without it: “The music business has always been two businesses running side by side, and that’s commercialism and art, and you get extremes of both, and their not better or worse than each other, they’re just… different, and… if you’ve got a modicum of creative ability you can be very, very successful if you’re also ambitious and willing to suppress parts of yourself… and I wasn’t.”

Bid’s assessment is commendably even-handed, especially for a man who acknowledges that altering his approach to his music for the sake of potentially greater financial gain wasn’t really in the cards. Still, his decision does by its nature identify him as one of those stubborn artist types. Though they were perhaps a noisier band -- live, at least -- in the beginning than they are on recent albums like Platinum Coils and Super Plastic City, back in the day, the kind of artistic compromise that Bid is talking about probably would have come at the cost of toning it up, not toning it down: new wave clothes and haircuts, that sort of thing.

The Monochrome Set have many devoted fans a good level of general respect on these shores, but it is easy to imagine they would be more widely known in the US if they hailed from, say, New Jersey, home of their spiritual somewhat-peers, the Feelies. Both groups released establishing debut albums in 1980 – the Monochrome Set’s Strange Boutique and the Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms -- though the Monochrome Set would turn out to be more prolific in the years immediately afterward. Even if both groups are in a class by themselves, those classrooms are adjacent, and it is almost surprising you don’t see the two mentioned together more often than they are.

The influence of their sound can be heard in bands that immediately followed them, like Orange Juice, and, similarly, on the C-86 generation in general. One doesn’t need to dig back into those early ‘80s releases to draw the connection either, all you have to do is cue up Spaces Everywhere. The lightly distorted guitar solos and rambling observational snippets (“Excuse me, have you voted yet?”) strung together into lyrics of “Iceman” feel unmistakably of a certain vintage. “Fantasy Creatures”, with its swirling organ and buoyant chorus, recalls Felt circa Forever Breathes the Lonely Word. Often times, only the crisp, modern sheen of the production gives it away that this isn’t an old reissue.

To observe that Spaces Everywhere feels rooted in a past era is not to accuse the album of sounding dated. The Monochrome Set is one of those groups for whom staying the course works in their favor -- or at least is has now. If and when their sound ever went out of style, the pendulum of time has now swung back in their favor. The freewheeling ease of the album never lets up. They can put a flute upfront in the title track or break into a gentle shuffle with “Ciao, ciao” backing vocals on “Rain Check”, and it all flows together without raising any eyebrows. The Monochrome Set may have never been destined for MTV rotation like some of those New Wave peers of theirs, but MTV itself effectively died a long time ago, while the Monochrome Set are still making highly enjoyable albums.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.