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Pop Music Review

A Pleasant If Superficial Evening From Mono

April 10, 1998|MARC WEINGARTEN

Picking up its sound at the intersection where Burt Bacharach, Serge Gainsbourg and Portis-head meet, the English duo Mono is a second-generation trip-hop outfit that revels in deep-focus production, delicate music-box melodies and the sensual ebb and flow of undulating, lounge-music rhythms. It's nothing revolutionary or radically inventive; in fact, the band sounds a little too much like Portishead on its debut album, "Formica Blues," minus the millennial angst.

Musical derivations aside, Mono's performance at the El Rey Theatre on Wednesday was nothing if not faithful to "Formica Blues' " expansive moodscapes. Augmented by a guitarist, a bassist and a drummer, keyboardist Martin Virgo and singer Siobhan DeMare spun their doomed love stories over a downy cushion of sound whose smooth surface would occasionally be disrupted by a break-beat or the sudden jolt of a drum machine pattern. Clad in a form-fitting skirt and low-cut top, DeMare played the role of the tragic chanteuse to the hilt, slyly drawing out her phrases in a wispy croon while swaying her hips in time.

It all made for an enjoyable if somewhat superficial exercise in understated showmanship. By substituting borrowed mannerisms for genuine depth of feeling, Mono occasionally came off as bloodless and self-conscious; they are a little too enamored of their own theatrical artifice. Which is a shame, because "Formica Blues" contains flashes of brilliance. While Mono clearly has a knack for crafting seductive torch music, its appeal remains only skin-deep.

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