Deliciously Explosive

Japanese instrumental band Mono speaks to their American audience through their music

The minimalist, instrumental rock music of Japanese band Mono tends to either strike listeners as tedious or inspire full-blown flights of descriptive effusion. It won't be hard to guess which extreme this article leans toward.

An emotionally moving beauty thrums through Mono's music, which the quartet creates primarily with the bare-bones rock instrumentation of guitar, bass and drums. It's there in the way the songs begin in near silence (so that you can barely hear sounds, but sense their approach) and subsequently build, almost imperceptibly, in waves of intensity and volume.

Soon, almost without being aware of it, you find yourself bobbing amid rising crescendos of orchestrated noise, like a cork tossed on a tsunami that seems to grow ominously while you wait for it to crest. Mono's music is a deliciously explosive--or implosive, depending on how you look at it--release of energy, which the band always wants to maintain as positive.

For the third time, Mono will visit Tucson to share with locals that sound--most recently documented on the band's third album, the Steve Albini-produced Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined. The gig's at Plush on Tuesday, Sept. 28.

Whether playing quietly or stirring up a monstrous din, Mono creates an aural type of meditation, a description that pleased guitarist Takaakira "Taka" Goto during a recent phone interview. He spoke, often with manager Reiko Kudo interpreting, from New York City last week on the eve of the band's sixth American tour.

"The band is hoping to create music that gives hope or joy when people feel depressed or grieving. If people are feeling sad or if people are troubled, we hope they feel comfort from our music," Goto said.

Goto said the 4-year-old band's Japanese fan base is limited primarily to Tokyo, and that it attracts more crowds and attention in Europe and North America. "It's funny ... The band feels there more fans waiting for their shows every time they come to America. It makes us feel really encouraged."

The band members speak a little English, but often on the road, they cannot easily understand their fans, so music ends up being their preferred mode of communication.

"Often, Mono goes to play gigs in other countries where the band doesn't speak their languages, and they don't speak Japanese, or they don't even speak English. But music is the only way to communicate with a lot of people. And as an instrumental band, it actually works out better, because it's a pure language."

Mono's members grew up listening to metal, thrash and various guitar-based alternative acts such as My Bloody Valentine. But during the past two years, all of the members of the band have started listening to classical music and film scores, Goto said.

"We find that we are more and more attracted to music that is speechless. We are really interested in trying get really deeper into instrumental music in many categories, and trying to deepen our level of expression.

"Without words, lyrics or a singer conveying something--a meaning, a concept, an emotion--is really hard, because you are creating it only with sound, but you are not limited either. The possibilities are endless, but you have to be more precise. You have to have that much more intensity and motivation to create one specific sound."

Mono's music shares some sensibilities--in terms of content, tone, dramatic tension and aural beauty--with bands from other parts of the world, such the Dirty Three (Australia), the aforementioned My Bloody Valentine (England), Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Broken Social Scene and A Silver Mount Zion (Canada), as well as American groups such as Explosions in the Sky.

Goto said the members of Mono happen to be good friends with the Texas-based Explosions in the Sky ("Whenever we are in Austin, they let us stay in their house, to sleep over"). And, coincidentally, the Canadian band Fly Pan Am, under the leadership of Godspeed guitarist Roger Tellier-Craig, will play on the same bill when Mono plays at Plush.

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