Mono is an experimental quartet from Japan who made their recording debut in 2001 with Under the Pipal Tree. The instrumental group has been celebrated in post-rock circles for their challenging, uncompromising, and beautifully morose compositions which owe far more to avant-garde classical and ambient music than any recognizable rock sub-genre.
Throughout the aughts, the band’s profile increased exponentially, with each release garnering more acclaim than that which preceded it. An ongoing collaboration with producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Shellac, The Pixies) peaked with 2006’s You Are There, upping the ante by employing traditional orchestral instrumentation to Mono’s ever expanding grasp on swarming, swirling feedback symphonies.
Each of Mono’s subsequent albums has built upon this early breakthrough, with Hymn to the Immortal Wind and Holy Ground: NYC Live, pushing the aesthetic to baroque extremes with large orchestra accompaniment. For 2012’s For My Parents, the band scaled down their ambitions to relatively earthly concerns, both thematically and stylistically.
While You Are There is a masterwork of expressing nearly unbearable pain in lush settings with astonishingly detailed arrangements and compositions (little of Mono’s output could be described as “songs”), For My Parents lays back on the embellishments and elicits equally chilling reactions. Gorgeous piano motifs rub elbows with shimmering electric guitar torturing and oceanic percussion. They get a little bit close to a rock beat in the middle of the eight minute “Dream Odyssey,” which also happens to be the shortest cut on the record.
Essentially, For My Parents is a stripped down variation of Mono’s single minded vision. The band has always aimed stratospherically without ever really failing, but the more personal evocations of this album make Mono’s perennial themes – implied loss defined only by its unending depths – that much more relatable. Additionally, the years of experience have only sharpened the quartet’s articulation and delivery.
Three Essential Songs:
“Unseen Harbor,” from For My Parents swells from a circular melancholic old-world passage into a hymnal mass suicide nightmare without ever changing a note.
“Moonlight,” from You Are There marks the occasion when Mono’s post-rock spaghetti westerns met classical music on an unusually nice day.
“The Kidnapper Bell” from Under the Pipal Tree is an early glimpse into what Mono had accomplished right out of the gate – richly textured, sinister interplay on rock instruments without adhering to the idiom, and where they’d go next – a more refined melancholia opened up by a universe of sounds and imagination.