Review Summary: Mono's sophomore release is often their most overlooked, however, it shows the band at their most experimental phase with huge results.
Ah Mono, why are you so good at what you do? For those who are unfamiliar with Mono allow me to introduce one of the biggest names in post-rock. The Japanese quartet consisting of two guitarists, Yoda and Takaakira "Taka" Goto, bassist/pianist Tamaki Kunishi and percussionist Yasunori Takada formed in 1999. The band released their first full length Under the Pipal Tree
in 2001, however it was not until the band's fourth full length You Are There
(produced by Mr. Steve Albini and released on Temporary Residence Limited) that the band received worldwide recognition and a permanent place as of post-rock's greats. The band's latest release, Hymn To The Immortal Wind
, further pushed Mono to the top the genre, making the band one of the longest running and most consistent bands in the genre. The success of the previous two albums unforeseeably, and unfortunately, caused Mono's earlier works to go vastly overlooked by many new fans. Luckily for the readers of this review I am here to not only give you this brief history lesson, but introduce you to Mono's 2002 sophomore release: One Step More and You Die
For fans who have only heard Mono's later works One Step More and You Die
will show a different side of Mono that hasn't been seen since this record. Starting at the surface, the production is quite different from that of the Albini produced records. While You Are There
have a lush and homogeneous sound, One Step More
is aggressive and heavy. The bass and drums are pushed into the red, and the guitars are split apart to either side of the mix. When the music gets loud, it gets loud
. Unlike the smooth crescendos found on the later records that flow easily and effortlessly, the climaxes on One Step More
are heavy and abrupt. The drums boom like thunder and the kick drum can be felt like a punch to the gut. Further intensifying the percussion is Tamaki's bass, which sadly seems to get pushed as far back into the mix as possible on the later records, but she gets her time in the spotlight on this record. The band sticks to the instruments they know instead of employing a full orchestra like on You Are There
. The most exotic sound heard here is a lone violin in select parts of the album. One Step More
also features some of Mono's heaviest and most experimental tracks.
It isn't all differences however. Even at the loudest parts of the album Mono finds a way to sprinkle on their magic touch of beauty. The final track 'Halo' is quintessential Mono the whole way through. A bluesy guitar melody strings along until the band picks up speed halfway through eventually coming to a boneshaking climax. Other than 'Halo,' the rest of the album is full of surprises. 'Sabbath' features a dual guitar melody playing to each other for three minutes before the rhythm section enters, a technique seldom seen in any of Mono's other work. Maybe Mono's strangest track, 'Mopish Morning, Halation Wiper' uses what seems to be a tape sample of fuzz that comes off sounding like rain that repeats endlessly as Tamaki plays a grim piano piece over the noise. The violin takes the limelight in 'Loco Tracks,' a relaxing track that stays calm throughout. One of Mono's heaviest tracks, 'A Speeding Car,' sounds just like the title implies. The car isn't speeding the whole time however. Glockenspiel and guitars put the car in the middle of a long country road, cruising at a gentle speed. But the driver is anxious. A few minutes in Mono unleashes, and the driver speeds off on a beautiful crescendo of percussion and Taka's signature delayed strumming.
The real highlight of the album is the 16 minute goliath 'Com(?).' A brooding guitar line softly plays out as the thick bass rolls in with the drums. Just two minutes into the track Mono quickly comes together for a steady jam dominated by bass and drums. At this point, 'Com(?)' is already the loudest song in Mono's entire library, but it just gets louder from here. 5 minutes in they pick up the speed yet again, slashing the meter in half. Taka stomps on his overdrive and brings the guitar melody ahead of the bass for a few moments before he switches to the distortion pedal, tossing the old melody out in favor of a even darker one. The band comes down off the fast tempo and let their instruments breathe for a few minutes. Takada's drums are beating like a metronome the entire time, almost hinting at what is to come. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge crash explodes the track into a frenzied climax (this will
scare the *** out of you the first time you hear the track) of distorted guitars and sludgy bass. This is Mono at their loudest and heaviest. With still 9 minutes left to go, Mono never lets up. Taka creates sounds with his guitar that sound like what air would sound like if it had a sound. Distortion is piled atop even more distortion, electronic noises sweep the soundscape, drums bang like trees falling in an open field, the bass is so loud it sounds like one long boom; all of this comes together in chaotic harmony-- Mono's greatest song.
After almost an hour of music Mono have made the loudest statement of their career. After One Step More and You Die
, Mono went on to create even more epic orchestral music, but this record shows Mono at their most experimental. Mono may be remembered for their later albums, but the band has been creating masterpieces ever since they formed in '99, One Step More and You Die
should not be overlooked by any fan of the band.