Monday, 24 September 2012

Mono - For My Parents

Think of Japanese post-rock band Mono, and you automatically get a sense of far-flung ventures and the desire for the usually seen but hardly announced and revealed to the wider World. While the jump from the western demographic to our Japanese counterparts in the east does make for some interesting source for influence, there's certainly no denying the quartet's sense of adventure and longing to root out the more diverse and dynamic scope to rock sounds. It's this very scope of experimentation and deliverance that has been met with much acclaim over the ten-plus years the band have been active. Anyone familiar with the likes of 'Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky...' or the band's 2009 release 'Hymn To The Immortal Wind' - hell, even their grand collaboration with fellow countryman World's End Girlfriend is certainly worthy of mention - will know the band are all for discovery and adventure over development and assurance. The key here is challenge - for both the band and the listener - and with their new release 'For My Parents' it certainly provides us with the most daring and daringly challenging collection of compositions the band have produced thus far.

Of course it's never that simple when it comes to the deciphering and the dissection of modern-day post-rock. But Mono are not what most would class as third-wave - or is it the right time to classify this as forth-wave, who knows - and their roots in the classics of ranging dynamics and orchestration is certainly one of nostalgic reminiscence. The challenge here is whether Mono can keep their sound fresh and inviting rather than simply limited to the interpersonal experimentation between the four of them. 'Legend' opens the album in a stretching sweep of violins and lonesome guitar strums that soon builds from somber delicacy to extruded outpours. As expected, Mono's approach is one of balancing the two parameters; guitars blurring as if into voices, notes seemingly losing their solidarity as if completely without connected structure. It's a steady and slightly cautious beginning, but the execution is what is at the helm. This narrowed control of a sound that comes across as if ready to combust and breach its borders, actually creates a substantial awe about the piece, even if the progression is, as noted, somewhat limited.

You come to 'Nostalgia' then soon after and the expectation automatically switches to something more drifted and floated in its integrity. Again, the eery void of violins make for some interesting additions of what might be anxiety, but equally could be interpreted as something a lot more glacial in its ascent. Regardless, the tempo and the pacing are kept the same - it neither adds nor hinders the personal flow the listener might have already engaged in the record. While this may accordingly work for the opening to an album of this courageous involvement, for a track that here, is more departed and withdrawn in its movement, there's a sense that the lack of any real drive or muster in the band's guitar work only limits the raw effect of Mono's more outwardly pushed sounds. And when the track in question comes in at over ten minutes, the lack of such a drive becomes more than just an ignorable con to Mono's pro's as a band.

'Dream Odyssey' thankfully doesn't attempt in the same fashion or vain to stretch its efforts of experimenting with dynamics all the way through the track. It begins actually quite open and honest to its choice of instruments - guitars feeling more honest in their approach and accompanying rhythm. Percussion too plays a significant role alongside the classical arrangement of piano and violins. But above all else, the track feels like it's fulfilled its original purpose - has attempted to search for a meaning, and found it. There's none of this whimsical uncertainty or haziness about the notation, The clarity of Mono's playing - and the confidence that comes with it - comes through the clearest on this track. Being one of this album's five tracks, it wouldn't be surprising if the assumption is made that such a well-crafted achievement such as this holds equal importance and worthy of attention to that which doesn't work as well. Sadly, the idea of each of these five tracks sharing equal responsibility gets overthrown by the notion that the other four show too much of an emotive swing, it's not totally ignorable.

For the album's closer 'A Quiet Place (Together We Go)', the band fully take to addressing their knowledge and expertise as an act going ten years and beyond. Directing the track through signature sweeps of throbbing guitars, it soon quietens then slowly reawakens in an unleashing sweep of violins and crashing cymbal percussion work. This very retreat-come-retaliatory surge back into the light works a lot better than the band's previous attempts on the record, as it knows where and how to identify its differentiating use of dynamics and organization in sound. But in addition - in much simpler terms - it doesn't factor in anything complex or that which may be deemed as filler or unnecessary delves into an experimentation too far flung from the region of rock.

It's like I said, it's never easy when you're trying to figure out or solve the riddle as to a band's methodology and line of thinking when creating an album - or even just a solitary unit of sound - of this magnitude and daring scope. It's because things such as courage and daring adventure can be easily mistaken for trivial things as confusion or even nervousness. Not that I think Mono are a band with either management or confidence issues, but on an album like 'For My Parents' the diversity and assurance they have often executed superbly well on previous albums seems to not just be lost, but limited likewise here. The mix-up of what's an idea and what's an approach to the idea comes off in vast amounts here, and when crafting a record that's built on solidarity of ideas, it's not the greatest news in the World. The confusion may not seep through as much to the listener (as it does the music) on a personally analytic perspective, but the fact remains the progression and manifestation of such content is the worst hit because of it. This is an album of sincere beauty certainly, but with very little context to drive it, that may be all there is to make this album shine.