Mantler is Toronto native Chris A. Cummings. Monody is his fourth album, concluding the protracted gap since his last record Landau, released in 2004. “Monody” is coincidentally also a word which has four meanings, none of which are enticing descriptors for a musical statement:

monody (plural monodies)

  1. An ode,  as in Greek drama,  for a single voice,  often specifically a mournful song or dirge.
  2. Any poem mourning the death of someone; an elegy.
  3. A monotonous or mournful noise.
  4. (music) A composition having a single melodic line.

Spin that wheel and it sounds as though you can’t win, really. I’ll protest on Mantler’s behalf though: don’t go! It’s not all bad! He’s right. Whilst Mantler has been accused of being too monodic in the past – riffing unstoppably on bleak themes, climaxing in 2002′s Sadisfaction, the songs here are mercifully relatively varied. Expect no moshpits, but instead a number of different variations on Mantler’s home-grown brand of musical moroseness. Mostly of a uniform midtempo, Monody‘s tunes frequently have their most interesting elements mixed too low, instead thrusting Cummings’ frequently monotone croon into centre stage, where it mingles with soft synthetic beats and syrupy strings with audible, if mild, discomfort.

Turning the album up relieves it of its tendency to lapsing into stupor, injecting a little extra energy in addition to making the buried musical treasures easier to find. ‘In Stride’ has a busy but drowned arrangement of funk guitar, boogie keys and brass, robbed of its potential impact by the shy mix and by Cummings’ subdued vocal mannerisms. There’s a kind of hesistance about Monody. Its better tracks sound reluctant to show their true face, which unfortunately means that its worse songs stick in the mind more readily. Chief among these is the fey, weepy ‘Crying at the Movies’ which musically speaking, is more monodic than anything else on the record.

Monody is not an album that was designed to leap out at the listener. It is determinedly not absorbing, but rather it sleepily and contentedly waltzes around the fringes of your perception. As a musical statement, it turns out that this is indeed mournful and in some ways monotone; and yet it does the job it was built to do. It’s only when the songs show buried promise, sounding almost neutered to fit the wider soundscape, that Monody genuinely frustrates. As it stands, this is a sombre, inoffensive background listen unlikely to win Mantler new fans outside the dreamlike bubble he inhabits.