The Monochrome Set: Spaces Everywhere

One of the most influential yet least known post-punk bands. Does their legacy translate into contemporary relevance?

- I’m ashamed to admit I’d never even heard of post-punk band The Monochrome Set before I picked up this release, so I spent all of last Thursday catching up on over thirty years of their recorded albums. Critically acclaimed and massively influential, evidence of the band’s legacy can be heard across the history of British alternative music from Pulp to The Smiths, but somehow The Monochrome Set themselves have managed to avoid almost any kind of lasting fame or notoriety, even amongst fans of their genre. So I found myself hoping that this album would be the one to turn their luck around, and introduce them to a new generation of hungry music lovers. Sadly, I was quickly disappointed.

This is one of the most well-composed, quirky, and intelligent releases to come out so far this year. It represents a noticeable refinement in style compared to their last album, 2013’s Super Plastic City, and boasts a layered sound reminiscent of a combination of '60’s rock, '70’s punk, and 90’s britpop. It’s a very meta sort of album, engaging with the history of pop music in subtle ways to add emotional weight to a series of twee, satirical narratives about life in modern Britain, shown most vibrantly in seventh track The Z-Train: where a driving, bluesy bassline and horror show guitar riffs back the singer’s observations of the people on his train.

However, it’s also an album that I struggled to relate to. The majority of its musical and cultural references end at around the 1970s, and even the sound of the music is dated. This poses a problem for the band. People of a demographic old enough to appreciate The Monochrome Set will have already formed an opinion on them, and Spaces Everywhere isn’t different enough from their old material to change their minds one way or the other. The heavy reliance on nostalgia for a period that ended before a lot of us were born makes it difficult to imagine younger fans will listen to it either.

I would love to see The Monochrome Set get the recognition they deserve within their lifetimes, but while they continue along without making any kind of effort to engage with modern music or relate to the changing world, it’s really getting hard to see that happening. Still, maybe that’s the way they like it: the sleeping giants of British indie, playing intricate, detailed, and funny music that speaks to the experiences of an aging fanbase which has followed them since the beginning. If you’re not already part of that fanbase, you will struggle to appreciate this album.

- Matthew Stoff .

Album Details

Album Title: Spaces Everywhere
Artist: The Monochrome Set
Record Label: (Tapete)