Tokyo four-piece MONO, have been playing and releasing instrumental rock music for fifteen years now, although these two albums, released simultaneously on Pelagic Records are my first exposure to them. They are companion pieces and continue the bands mission to create music exploring the feelings of sorrow and joy, with ”The Last Dawn” the lighter set and ”Rays of Darkness” more of a match with it’s title.
MONO have been described as progressive post-rock, but wait…come back, they are much more interesting than that!! To me music with the post-whatever tag seems limited by what the bands ideals deem unnecessary or unpalatable, whereas the music played throughout these two fine mini-albums seem limitless in scope, the instrumentation and styles utilised are played because they serve the song, not the genre.
Originally influenced by Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine the band now take their cues from a wider spectrum including modern classical music, minimalism and film soundtracks. I’m not a big fan of instrumental rock music, but the beautiful, tremulous and haunting songs on “The Last Dawn” (especially ‘Elysian Castles’ and the Morricone-esque ‘Land Between Tides Glory’) take the field of experimental rock music and imbibe it with grace and soul. The use of strings in rock can often be predictable and rather sickly, but here they really add an extra level of drama to the compositions and the whole album is seamlessly atmospheric, with not a note out of place.
I do find “Rays of Darkness” slightly less effective at first – thematically it is the doomier counterpoint to “The Last Dawn” but opening track ‘Recoil Incite’ starts out in similar vein to most of the other album in a sort of optimistic musical ascent – if clothed in minor chords. It gradually gets more agitated though; a sheen of fuzz begins to appear on the guitars and everything seems to have had the volume turned up. “Surrender” is just sad and ponderous, definitely more doomy, but you wonder if ‘Recoil Ignite’ was a false start. However MONO are too smart for the obvious moves and utterly stun you two tracks from the end with the death metal howl of ‘The Hands That Holds The Truth’ (the only track to feature vocals; their introduction makes you jump out if your skin with fright) and the Boris-esque nuclear wasteland of ‘The Last Rays’.
When ‘The Last Rays’ finally burns itself out you are left disturbed and appalled, but full of admiration for MONO and the incredible sonic stories they have crafted.