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As a genre, dance music has always benefitted from an ever-diverse cast of characters operating at its heart. Some of them are regulars like Madonna, the Pet Shop Boys or Daft Punk. Others may only pass through, but make quite an impression, such as David Bowie, Blur or The Ting Tings. But, all these individuals and many, many more have kept the dance music field a rich and broad aural playground for creatives of all stripes.
The synth-pop pair Monarchy are one such set of creatives. On November 27th, 2009, the British based Australian ex-pats Ra Black (vocals) and Andrew Armstrong (programmer, producer) appeared in The Guardian feature “New Band of the Day.” The writer, Paul Lester, cleverly opined about the duo, “Who are Monarchy? They’re a duo from London whose two songs thus far (“Gold in the Fire” and “Black, the Colour of My Heart”) are a little bit synth-pop, a little bit electro-funk, a little bit French disco, and a little bit yacht rock.” It was a lofty and rightfully flattering assessment of the merrymaking act, who at that time were obscuring their identities to build a bit of mystery around themselves.
Monarchy played it right. In just a year, they had locked in solid critical support which helped them pave a sure path to an eventual devoted cult following. In the decade that followed Lester’s article on Black and Armstrong, the two went on to become festival darlings with two accomplished albums to their name—Around the Sun (2011) and Abnocto (2015). With their third effort Mid:Night, Monarchy hold fast to their ability to needle at any and all sonic boundaries, a constant demonstration of a limitless artistic drive.
A slight “about face” from the dark and dense ambiance of Abnocto, Mid:Night deals in a neon lit, groove-based method ideal for capturing the sensuality and curiosity of night life—on and off the dancefloor. Or, in Monarchy’s own words, “The album concept is from the title, Mid:Night. It’s a time between two emotions. You can be at home, getting ready to go out. Or you’re at home, and getting ready to stay in. It’s that transition time, which we love.”
Whether tasking at a post-disco clubland pace (“Deep Cut”) or a midtempo electro vibe (“Dead Set Lust”), Monarchy display an eye for exquisite detail that recalls the classic and contemporary gait of dance and electronic music through the ages for the shrewd listener.
Between Mid:Night’s non-single fare and its initiating set of singles (“Midnight,” “Hula Hoop 8000”), it’s clear that Monarchy’s ear for dance music detail is why they ended up as one of the hottest remixers for Kylie Minogue, Jamiroquai, Marina and the Diamonds and others in the decade they came to notice.
Central to giving Armstrong’s arrangements their soul is the outstanding vocal approach of Black himself. Flitting from falsetto highs to full-throated passion on entries like “Back to the Start” and “Cumming Coma,” Black showcases a flexible singing style that can adapt to any track thrown at him. Black’s vocalizing also teases out the dually sensual and reflective lyrical themes of each track too, proof that style and substance could coexist versus being mutually exclusive.
In a year sure to be packed with stellar recordings, Monarchy’s third album is already a 2019 highlight. Mid:Night is bursting with an ebullient, sophisticated energy that encapsulates the best that the dance-pop genre can offer.
Notable Tracks: "Cumming Coma" | “Deadset Lust” | "Deep Cut" | “Hula Hoop 8000”