EP, self-released, 2008
Return to Mono is a San Francisco-based fusion of luscious feminine vocals and refined trip-hop stances, fully electronic textured beats and complementary guitar trimmings. Singer Tanya Kelleher manages her task effortlessly, thanks to producer Andy Sybilrud’s seamless integration via skillful keyboard manipulations, and additional live instrumentation from Jim Paulos. The “Involution” EP is steeped in rhythm & blues-inspired songwriting that washes through robust electronic constructions, a known recipe for critical attention, if not success.
Opener “Losing Faith” sets the pace for “Involution” with an electro-rock feel – confident beats backing vocals that remind of Shirley Manson – while the following “Isola” expresses a quieter, bluesy face of Return to Mono, where tactile hand drums interlace piano and guitar. Piano also introduces the laidback drum’n’bass forming the groundwork for “Hope” (a style unique to this track), where the addition of a muted jazz trumpet completes a dynamic, yet melancholy, atmosphere. Grandiose guitar splashes in “Insult to Injury” counterpoise vocals that are chanted and meditative, however it is the track’s overarching, abrupt beats that stand out most. Other, slower syncopations arise with mellow “Give Me Something” and inside the thickly rendered layering of “Song for Sleeper.” The latter song brings the EP to a fitting and dreamy close with its saturated, spacey ambience, an aspect which, in retrospect, is precisely the undercurrent that makes “Involution” appealing.
Although only seven tracks, “Involution” is commendable in how well it is balanced, with every piece suited to its pacing and position. Sounds on the release are lucid and intelligible, and each distinct element is harmonious with its peers in volume and definition; it is evident Sybilrud’s studio inspirations have translated well into a promising trip-hop/electro-lounge formula. Essential to this, Kelleher’s singing ranges from subtle, breathy intonations to soaring, soulful cries; her confidante-spun lyrics are at once moody and exuberant, with a satisfying and peculiar dark humor about them. Return to Mono deserves high praise for its emotive electronics and attentive craftsmanship, both trademarks of its genre’s heritage, yet its vocal component shines brighter than most in that category.
— Dutton Hauhart