Mono


(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Under the Pipal Tree (2001), 6.5/10
One Step More And You Die (2003) , 7/10
Walking Cloud And Deep Red Sky (2004), 6.5/10
You Are There (2006), 6/10
Hymn To The Immortal Wind (2009), 6/10
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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Japanese instrumental quartet Mono (guitarists Takaakira Goto and Yoda, bassist Tamaki, drummer Yasunori Takada) are purveyors of post-rock's schizophrenic dynamics.

Under the Pipal Tree (Tzadik, 2001), notably the lengthy Karelia Opus 2 (a drums-intense space-rock crescendo with cosmic guitar) and Error #9 (a rollercoaster of violent and mellow passages a` la Mogwai), experimented with a sound that was claustrophobic and hysterical but shunned the "wall of noise" of Japanese noise-mongers such as Boredoms and Merzbow in favor of an articulate development of fractures and continuities that resembled the "suites" of progressive-rock and psychedelic music. The melancholy zenith comes with the ten-minute Human Highway, a quiet meditative guitar piece with strings.

The centerpiece of One Step More And You Die (Arena Rock, 2003) was the 16-minute Com, a more austere and sophisticated manifesto of their post-psychedelic chamber music. A tenuous guitar melody mutates into a space-rock juggernaut. The music implodes into absolute silence. Then it erupts into an agonizing Hendrix-ian blues-rock with noisier and noisier glissandoes. Basically, the same piece swings wildly between opposite extremes. A Speeding Car is instead a linear crescendo of the kind that they pioneered on the first album, but the melodic intensity is much higher, bordering on the ecstatic and spiritual. The group's better grasp on the emotional flow made it sound like a more barbaric and brutal version of Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor. But the huge difference is that Mono have a heart. The guitar weaves the touching raga-style hymn of Sabbath over a somber drum beat, and Mopish Morning Halation Wiper is a mournful adagio (despite the out-of-tune tones). Every piece indulges in sentimental overtones that were unknown to the founding fathers of post-rock.

The calmer and more introspective Walking Cloud And Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered And The Sun Shined (Temporary Residence, 2004) boasted two more compositional peaks, the eleven-minute 16:12 (the frantically plucked guitar chords of Takaakira Goto weave an atmosphere of soaring, propulsive ecstasy) and the 15-minute Lost Snow (whose central section is a catalog of different ways to produce guitar drones), and, in general, continued to look for an exit strategy from the post-rock artifices of the first album. Even Halcyon, the one piece that revisits the elegiac mood of the second album, eventually abandons it for another cosmic hymn; and Ode never quite leaves its limbo of daydreaming melancholy.
The first album toyed with post-rock torment, and the second album focused on emotion. This third album moved towards a more abstract format, a lot less sentimental but also a lot more pensive. The trilogy as a whole provided three perspectives on introversion in music, each complementing the others.

The progression towards a less emotional atmosphere continued on You Are There (Temporary Residence, 2006), on which the relatively smooth but lush decays of the 13-minute The Flames Beyond Cold Mountain (mournful choir, glacial instrumental crescendo, stately melody of droning guitar), the 15-minute Yearning (funereal tempo, funeral guitar line) and the album standout, the 13-minute Moonlight (gentle paradisiac guitar melody, adagio-like strings, soaring vibrato, explosive distortion), were coupled with two short and romantic orchestral elegies, A Heart Has Asked for the Pleasure and The Remains of the Day that represented a major turn of events for Mono, as far removed from their trademark thundering climaxes as possible. This was perhaps Mono's equivalent of Sonic Youth's Sister. However, the shift towards austere ambience (of one kind or another) was not completely matched by creativity, and the material sounded somewhat inferior to the first three albums. Moonlight, though, redeemed everything that was redundant or wanting on this album.

Gone (Temporary Residence, 2007) collects Mono's EPs from 2000-2007.

Hymn To The Immortal Wind (Temporary Residence, 2009) overflows with magniloquent and stately dynamics that borrow from the melodramatic style of cinematic soundtracks. The moving guitar threnody of the twelve-minute Ashes In The Snow breaks into shoegazing distortion when stormy drumming undermines its melodic foundations. This emotional crescendo is reinforced by the quiet elegiac vision of the eleven-minute Burial At Sea, in which the guitar soon intones another fervent hymn-like melody that fades into a humble requiem-like lament before exploding and soaring into a grandiose apotheosis. An orchestral Tchaikovsky-ian adagio envelops the tender Silent Flight Sleeping Dawn. Having run out of viable melodies, the 13-minute The Battle To Heaven aims for the jugular, indulging in a thundering galactic meditation for distorted guitar. The eleven-minute Pure As Snow (Trails Of The Winter Storm) further highlights the limitations of this method: the monotonous and sentimental first part resembles easy-listening muzak and, when it finally soars as easy to expect, it could be a ballad for Whitney Houston. The massive noisy coda is more a confession of not knowing how to close the piece than a creative way to do so. The ten-minute Everlasting Light winks at Jim Steinman-esque piano-based melodrama but then returns to the wavering guitar hymnody and the bombastic drumming of the beginning.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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