February 21, 2005

Mono "Walking Cloud and the Sun Shined"

I don’t claim to be an expert on Japanese music. However, one thing I can say about the best Japanese bands I’ve heard over the last couple of years is that they possess an uncanny ability to synthesize the best ideas of a genre’s key artists into a composite whole that transcends mere “Recommended If You Like” mimicry. Acid Mothers Temple does it with psychedelic rock, Luminous Orange does it with shoegaze, Cornelius does it with postmodern pastiche, and Mono does it with post-rock. At their best, Mono synthesizes the volatility of Mogwai, the wistfulness of Explosions in the Sky and the orchestral melancholy of Godspeed You Black Emperor. Of course, this is just a namedropper’s way of saying that 1) their songs layers simple, pretty riffs on top of each other, 2) they slowly build up to glorious crescendos and 3) they make extensive use of strings.

If Mono’s previous album One More Step and You Die was their version of Mogwai’s Young Team, then this album is their Come on Die Young. Like that album, Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined offers more tension than release. The album is sequenced so that the band’s usual bombastic dirges are interspersed with shorter ambient pieces, the best of which (“Mere Your Pathetique Light”) reach the same heights as the louder songs without drums or excessive distortion. Even on the louder songs, the crescendos are few and far between; because of such, some listeners may get bored quickly. Fortunately, Mono is well acquainted with the element of surprise. The explosion that occurs about five minutes into “Ode” will scare the crap out of you on first listen…and you still might not be prepared for it on the 20th. “Lost Snow” sustains its crescendo for long enough that you start paying attention to changes in texture more than changes in volume. Even after the song finally calms down, the band keeps you on edge by interrupting the quiet coda with intermittent bursts of amplifier noise.

Last but not least, Steve Albini’s “recording” is perfectly suited for Mono --- the guitars singe, the snare drums sound like gun shots and the bass is felt more than heard. I must admit that Temporary Residence’s decision to release this album feels a bit superfluous; even its title reads like something Explosions in the Sky would come up with if English was their second language. However, Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky… holds up well enough after multiple listens to justify its own existence.

---Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.mono-44.com
Label Website: http://www.temporaryresidence.com

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