Review Summary: Japanese post-rockers more than 'deliver the goods' - they unleash a classic.
There are many bands who fit in today under the umbrella term that is post-rock. It seems to encompass a variety of eclectic approaches, from 65daysofstatic
's squalling, electro-infused thump to Slint
's swirling story-telling. Furthermore, yet another take is the use of standard rock instruments to create swirling pieces of music almost classical in scope. Mono
is one of these bands.
The album opens with 'The flames beyond the cold mountain'. Guitar strums ebb and flow like the glowing orange on the album cover, as if the impending danger draws closer every moment, but has not quite reached you. A master-class in slow-burning tension, the piece builds and builds, adding layer upon layer, until, just after the six minute mark, the drums come in, the guitars begin to snarl, and bare their teeth, but just holding onto their ferocity.
Until, after the seventh minute, the whole song splits open.
Walls of thunderous guitar and bass surge forth, a maelstrom of musicality, the drums pounding in the background like an advancing army. The track bellows and rages until, it stops, and fades from a scream to a whisper. The distortion recedes. The calmness of the opening returns, and you find yourself entranced. This doesn't last long, however, and after a cooling off period the song crashes back into high gear for the last minute and blows you away.
The second track, 'A heart has asked for the pleasure', is much smaller in length, and sort of a bookend between 'Flames...' and the next song, but it is a welcome one. Glittering guitar plucks and sonorous string work make for a soothing way to give a tranquility after the howling opener, and the song trickles in and out. A lovely piece.
'Yearning', the longest song on the album, is its centrepiece. Beginning with the lyrical guitar work of Takaakira Goto and fellow axeman Yoda, their six-string harmonies feed off eachother, beautiful in their sparseness and simplicity. The piece continues in this fashion for some time, adding layers much like 'Flames...', but completely different at the same time. Everything grows and grows, strings melting into the foray every so often, until you're sure that something is bound to happen.
At 7:20, it stops. One guitar plucks slowly.
Then, with heart-stopping alacrity, the whole band explodes in the most intense moment on the whole album, a mid-tempo bellow that will take the breath from your lungs. The song burns and screams, heavy as any band could ever hope to be. Finally, the section ends, and 'Yearning' winds down into sweet nothingness, and you can't help but think you've been hit by something you'll never forget.
'Are you there?', a gorgeous study in interlocking melodies, refuses to be anything more than lush, as if the wanton destruction of 'Yearning' has to be balanced. Soothing, ever-so-gentle guitar and warm bass, with drums that throb peacefully, the whole ten-and-a-half-minutes of the song is wondrous.
'The remains of the day', named after Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, continues the template laid down by 'A heart...' and 'Are you there?', with piano and strings taking the lead here. It is almost a chamber piece, and another example of Mono
's excellent ear for melody.
'Moonlight' is the album's epitaph. It encapsulates everything previously seen into one inspired whole. A spacey, reverberating intro gives way to strings that wouldn't be out of place on a classical radio station, followed by the majestic build that Mono
do so well, but in a different time signature that make it like a powerful waltz, which resonates with the title. The drop, when it occurs, enters subtly, with one guitar suddenly becoming distorted, and then the whole song morphs into beautiful destruction, the strings being staunch supporters rather than pretentious additions. The close is a swirling goodbye, into dying silence, and a humming. And it's over.
'You Are There' deserves to take its place among the greatest albums of our time. Describe it however you want - post-rock, instrumental-rock, new-classic - the album deserves the highest accolades. It truly merits the rating of 'classic'. Buy it, love it, and let it take place as one of your favourite CDs. Unmissable.