Mono – Pilgrimage of the Soul

There are a million post-rock bands out there, and many of them sound the exact same.  In a field like that, it takes something extra to stand out, and I feel like Mono does that well.  Mono have been at it for 20 years now, and their sound only gets better and more mature.  Their new album is called, fittingly, Pilgrimage of the Soul, and it released on September 17th.

Mono come to us from Japan.  Their flavor of post-rock is obviously influenced by this.  The current line up includes: Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto on guitar, Tamaki on bass and piano, Yoda on guitar, and Dahm on drums.  The album also features an array of performers on violin, cello, and brass instruments.

Here’s the thing: Mono has been a post-rock band for 20 years, and their original sound was like mashing emo/alternative rock with classical music.  As time has passed, they have become more and more emotional in their sound: nostalgic even.  Their previous album, Nowhere Now Here, was a brilliant foray in something meatier, and even included vocals on one track.  Now, the band continues to grow, adding more and more orchestration to their sound, and also adding electronic and ambient sounds to the mix.

That is something that might take longtime fans aback here.  Some of the songs are ambient for a good length of time.  Not that the band hasn’t explored slow-burning textures before, but this album simply feels more nuanced and more detailed than any that they have made.  The band likes to talk about patience and reward when it comes to their music, and that is definitely not just a gimmick.  Mono requires persistence and careful, purposeful listening. 

The subtlety on this album can certainly make or break how the listener feels.  For someone like me who loves ambient music, it feels like going home, in a way.  Or maybe welcoming Mono home.  But for someone who is looking for crescendos primarily, there aren’t as many here.  There are, however and probably ironically, more songs with an actual beat.  So, while the album is quieter and more nuanced than ever, it also boasts some of the heaviest and fastest songs of their career.  This creates a contrast as the gap widens in the range the band can handle.  And it is a beautiful thing.

It will be interesting to see the band grow more into this role.  The album may not come off as being as strong as some of their past works, but I think the potential is there, given time.  The album starts off with “Riptide”, a powerful, riveting, and I daresay heavy track with distortion and fantastic drumming throbbing in its veins.  Such a fantastic track, and probably one of their best ever.  Yet, it is immediately followed with “Imperfect Things”, a track that is mostly reserved and ambient, with hints of whirling textures and emotional abstracts.  It does build to a percussion-heavy climax, though, but it never loses the deep magic at its heart.

Much of the album proceeds like this.  “Heaven in a Wildflower” is a pensive, cerebral track of ambient textures; and it glories in this sound, like beckoning us to consider the flower of the field in all its quiet beauty.  Yet, “To See the World” comes right after this, and definitely has more post-rock in its sound, leaning on shoegaze guitars.  “Innocence” and “The Auguries” are similar in that respect.

The last couple tracks are truly stunning works.  “Hold Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand” is a gently majestic, otherworldly song that runs about 12 minutes.  It delves deeply into ambience and abstraction, but there is a beautiful melody throughout, always providing a touchstone for the mind.  The song transitions from quiet streams of thought into colorful rivers of violence, and back again.  You can feel the journey, the pilgrimage, the experience; you can feel the evolution of the band as it culminates into this grandiose piece.  The final work, “And Eternity in an Hour”, is like a lush contemplation of the previous track.  It muses through violin and piano, considering deeper and simpler things.  It is such a beautiful closer.

Mono are becoming more and more interesting.  I can’t wait to see what they do with this new evolution in their sound, but I think they created a strong outing here, too.  Pilgrimage of the Soul is introspective in all the best ways, while still raging and fomenting satisfyingly, too. Fans should be please ultimately, and I think Mono could attract new listeners easily with this record.


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