Depeche Mode may have been the usual comparison thrown out when describing House of Wires’ previous album, You Are Obsolete. But though its sound is still comparable to early ’80s synth-pop, Monogamy has evolved as House of Wires becomes a bit more experimental on their latest effort.
You Are Obsolete was a superb retro album, but its songs began to sound a tad mundane towards the end. This time around, there are attempts to prevent such an occurrence, and with the album lasting more than an hour, there should be. Jon Sonnenberg and Robert Gutschow have created a much fuller LP with Monogamy, giving Ronnie Martin’s Plastiq Musiq label another strong effort that fits comfortably within the impressive line-up he has already collected.
At first, the disco beat of “Away” suggests a more upbeat House of Wires than usual, but Sonnenberg’s weary, melancholy vocals detains the music and gives it that saggy-eyed British feel. The vocals work as they attach a more dreamlike, sensual feel to an otherwise danceable track. Unfortunately, like You Are Obsolete, the sorrowful (albeit bland) voice of Sonnenberg can be the group’s downfall on such tracks as “World of the Future” and “Belief” where it just doesn’t fit the mood. It’s the same reason why Robert Smith doesn’t sound right singing poppy love songs. His voice’s tone somewhat limits his abilities.
However, Sonnenberg does jazz up his sound by adding effects to his voice on “Luxury,” which resembles Joy Electric’s earlier material. Speaking of Joy Electric, “Caroline” could easily be straight from Old Wives’ Tales, with its wonderland savor and heavenly keyboard flow. At any rate, there is actual fluctuation heard in his voice during “Mad at the World,” which was unheard of on You Are Obsolete but adds immensely to Monogamy.
Regarding the music, it gets more layered as additional instruments have crept into the mixture, but along with that freshness comes some aspects that would’ve been better left out. I don’t really know if “World of the Future” fits the genre with its many additional sounds; the tap-dancing may have taken the experimentation too far. However, the excess becomes pleasurable on songs like “Monogamy”; after 4 minutes of jungle beats and obscure electronic sounds, Jon and Robert harmonize their voices and play the segment backwards, creating a hauntingly beautiful sound.
It continues directly into “The Door With 5000 Locks,” which evokes Massive Attack (with bland British vocals) and generates the ominous mood typical of trip-hop groups. The entire LP is lavished with pleasant melodies and keys that weren’t as evident on You Are Obsolete. There’s definitely a more unearthly touch given on account of House of Wires’ experiments. Ultimately, Monogamy has a sleeker presence than You Are Obsolete, but it still contains a few inessential bits and pieces.
Written by Nolan Shigley.