Title: Mono Box
Artist: Small Colin
Release Date: 17 Feb 2014
License: CC BY-SA
After last year’s excellent Tape Productions, I wasn’t expecting a new release. But, less than a year later and he has a new release. Now it’s time to hear what happens when Small Colin goes mono.
With Tape Productions, Colin Sweeney turned the production ideas of Lo-Fi music on it’s ear through a production process known as ping-ponging (which I detailed in my previous review). The effect added a layer of white noise to all the tracks that became an integral part of the texture and shape of the songs.
On Mono Box, Colin has gone a completely different direction. This time, instead of using a production technique to enhance and modify the sound of the music he has keyed the work around a monophonic synthesizer. And, instead of using highly processed and sequenced sounds he recorded a lot of the instruments (drums and guitars) live, layering track on track.
In this way, Mono Box is completely the opposite of Tape Productions, and yet in some way they feel like they complement each other. While Mono Box is a digital recording, it achieves a level of organic feeling by the small variations and differences between the instruments. Just the little, sub 1/32nd of a beat variations between repetitions of a line can have a big impact on the overall sound of a piece of music. It opens it up to more humanity, a feeling of connection, instead of a feeling of mechanical precision. (Rick Wakeman of Yes talked at one time about using quantizing on sequences he recorded, and stated that he never quantized beyond a 64th of a beat precision, to capture some of the human variation in the lines he recorded.)
So Mono Box has all the glory of an exceptionally produced 1970’s rock album, but with the synthesized beating heart of a Kraftwerk or Tangerine dream album of the same period. It’s the type of fusion that many groups tried to achieve, and very few came close. Of course, we’ve moved on from 70’s arena rock, and electronic music, and Small Colin has moved on as well, citing to more indie, grunge, and alternative rock as influencing his writing on this album. And, it shows in the compact, concise arrangements, and in his choices for guitar layering and sounds.
The only thing missing from this EP are vocals. We aren’t given any tracks with the kind of vocals like ‘Reach Out’ or ‘Red Wine’ from Tape Productions. The tracks on Mono Box stand well without vocals, however, and I will concede that adding vocals might have diluted the focus on the little synthesizer that was the inspiration and driving force for this project.
So, this is a definite must grab release in my estimation. It is a perfect complement to Tape Productions, and yet different enough to stand on its own. It’s really nice to hear an artist being able to choose a different direction, without losing the connection to his work that makes it special. In fact, instead, Small Colin has achieved something most artists strive for: keeping the core of his style, that element that the audience relates to, while working within a different style. Bravo for Small Colin goes mono!