THE PARTNERSHIP of William Carkeet and Eleanor Gray began when William offered to produce Eleanor’s second album; that collaboration quickly transcended into what is now Robbie & Mona, with the majority of EW recorded in the cellar of Bristol’s legendary The Louisiana, with additional bedroom recordings.
The album as a whole is a mystical and hypnotic collection of tracks for the alternative soundtrack to a film you have never seen before.
Influenced by film soundtracks, “Wallpaper” would not be out of place in a David Lynch movie: that mix of tenderness and climactic synths, with guitars used sparingly around programmed drums.
Yet there was a far odder inspiration for this track, as Mona explains: “It’s about feeling quite passive and ghost-like, like you’re in the wrong realm, just an observer. The intro vocals were delivered without any thought in a bit of a daze.
“I think the tightness of the music was weirdly inspired by Napoleon Dynamite. We were watching it and really enjoyed how all the songs towards the end were just so deadpan.”
As past members of that Bristolian collective Pet Shimmers, there is a fearlessness of combining sonic textures with familiar song structures, yet the songs carry that vibe of lo-fi indie. The album explores emotional complication and the feeling of alienation – it rewards multiple listens.
This minimalist approach to composition helps create an atmospheric aura of work for this duo who embrace harmony and theatricality to wonderful effect.
Take ‘Queen Celine’ for example, a short nugget with a beautiful clash of angry guitars from Robbie, yet soulful delivery from Mona. This feeds into the dream-like ‘Cherry Fish’, with vocals raising the synth to new heights.
A short track such as ‘The Carpenter’ is a little morsel of a musical idea that ferments and feeds into the following ‘Wallpaper’ with the piano resolving to the more familiar electro fuzz of that single.
The album could well be a statement about conformity and the needs to alter our perception of what electronic music is in terms of expectation, production and consumption – this is an album of differing norms throughout.
A song like ‘Venice’ feels like a meander through a memory of place, yet the use of horns makes it feel more anthemic; bringing a personal tale to the attention of the listener.
‘Crocodile Pears’ is a transfixing song with organs and horns clashing to make a riveting soundscape to end the album on a euphoric note. Sampling attempts to break through, yet every time it does, Mona vocals push back.
The album is a hypnotic work of dreamscape electronica that prompts comparisons with The XX and James Blake; and while those may be more mainstream artists, the ambition of this partnership cannot be overstated and the ability to deliver on this level is both mesmeric and entrancing.
Robbie & Mona’s EW is out on January 29th on Spinny Nights.