Tu M' - Monochromes Vol. 1
Tu M's Monochromes Vol. 1 understands the virtue of stillness. From the cover onwards, this is a precisely elegant work, with the Italian duo jettisoning the edgy electronics that they were previously associated with in favour of gentle revelation. Releasing through a 12k-associated label and roping in Richard Chartier to design the artwork indicates that they are embracing the minimalist aesthetic even more than their earlier work.
There is a reason for all of this, but let's get the obvious namecheck out of the way: Tu M' are not merely musicians, they are artists, and with their accompanying videos and diagrams that illustrate how Monochromes was produced (handily available on their website) it is almost as if they are playing up to comparisons with Brian Eno. But Eno hasn't produced an ambient album for at least a decade (some would argue he doesn't need to with the existence of Bloom as an iPod app), and Tu M' are, at the very least, worthy heirs - this is their Thursday Afternoon. One further connection between the two - Tu M' named themselves after Marcel Duchamp's final work and their label Mr Mutt in reference to the signatory on Duchamp's infamous Urinal, a work that Eno - presumably in a bid to reclaim it as a functional item - pissed in.
But there is another artist that Tu M' reference on this work - Jean Cocteau's quote "A poet always has too many words in his vocabulary, a painter too many colours on his palette, a musician too many notes on his keyboard." In response to this, Tu M' reduce the number of colours to one or two shades in their videos, and the quantity of notes in their improvisations. As they are operating via laptops, the issue of the keyboard is academic, as is the expansive vocabulary (as if to underline this, the track titles are merely "Monochrome 01-04").
The four tracks within last over an hour between them, gradually building up in such a delicate and subtle way that the density of the tracks can be quite surprising unless you're paying attention. The shortest piece omits the long build, but even that evolves and shifts in its duration - however it doesn't sit in quite so comfortably with the overall mood of the work, sounding more like a refugee from Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works II. The other three pieces billow and waft about in a more minimal manner - perhaps the duo are sacrificing their own adventurous side in exchange for consistency of effect, for adherence to the concept, but as a whole it works. The final track takes up nearly half the album's running time, but doesn't dominate with its scale, gently ebbing away over the closing ten minutes as if to usher in silence.
One of the videos for Monochromes shows an imperceptibly shifting landscape that seems to gradually change as mountain ridges rise and fall, developments so subtle that one doesn't notice it occurring at any one instant. It is a perfect illustration for the album - nothing happens, and yet everything happens. There's been no shortage of ambient records recently but Tu M' have put a lot of thought behind the Monochromes project and the result is one of the finest recent examples of an immersive piece, a tranquil auditory experience that will stay with the listener long after it is over.