Posted onNovember 24, 2014
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One of the most fascinating parts of listening to postrock (and music in general I suppose) is being able to stand a distance away and watch a group of people come together. They form a band and create a sound. That sound is an expression and when that sound resonates with you, it’s a wonderful feeling that’s hard to describe. And as you watch this group of musicians put out new albums that sound and that expression evolves in unique ways. Mono is a band that many see as one of the biggest faces in postrock. While I try to write reviews from as objective as a point as I can, I would be lying if I didn’t start this by saying that the sound and expression Mono has created in the past has always resonated with me.
When I first listened through The Last Dawn, I heard the expression I’ve come to appreciate from Mono. They somehow create a sweeping orchestral sound through layers of almost dissonant noise. If you are a fan of Mono, The Last Dawn is what you’d expect from them. The sounds and the arrangements are tighter than what we last heard with For My Parents, but this isn’t a step in either direction for the band. That’s not a criticism because the album is gorgeous. Where We Begin is a standout track that encapsulates Mono’s sound.
But then we get to Rays of Darkness, and the game changes a bit. This album felt almost like a big reveal in a movie. When they finally say who the killer was and all you can think is, “I should’ve known the whole time.” The arrangements and the sounds are much darker and much heavier, but they still remain true to the band. Recoil Ignite is a track that might be a bit of a surprise because of its mood, but seems so obvious once you listen to it a few times. The whole album felt almost revelatory.
This is the album where we watch as this group of musicians evolve and express in a new but not unfamiliar way. And now it’s time to talk about what many people are going to be scratching their heads over: The Hands That Hold The Truth. This song brings vocals… well if you can call those vocals. It’s by far my least favorite track on the albums, but I’d like to explain why I could understand and appreciate what they tried to do.
If you listen to the whole track it builds up to the point of a climax, which we would expect of Mono. They are known for their crescendos, but those always came from guitars. In this song, they switch the formula and bring it with vocals. The vocals are harsh, grating, and startling. This is a darker album for them, and it almost seems inevitable that they would have to switch their tone to be darker for this type of song. Unfortunately, they went to a far extreme, but the reasoning seems solid enough.
Overall these two albums welcome you back to the sound of Mono, and at the same time bring you into a new expression of their band. The Last Dawn is a gorgeous example of what this band is capable of producing, and Rays of Darkness shows what we can expect from them in the future. Evolution is inevitable and Mono managed to still be Mono while showing some new and great things.
NOMADS has been one of those strong bands in my library that I never got around to fully appreciating. I’d listen to it every now and then, but I never really sat down with it and soaked it all in. The big change in sound from their self-titled debut and their following singles to this EP stopped me in my tracks.
Apparently there’d been a theft, someone got away with thousands of dollars worth of equipment. To my knowledge, NOMADS didn’t spam their Facebook with kickstarters or indiegogo campaigns, a fact that speaks volumes about their character. I think too many bands rely on their fans too much for help recoup their losses. Your fans are just that – Fans. They are not investors, they not anything so official. They are people who like your music, and can stop liking their music whenever they damn well please.
But these guys don’t whine. They just continue making beautiful music. In the description of this EP it says this music is not only a giant middle finger to the thieves, it’s a monument to ‘The show must go on’. In my eyes, that makes this band so much better than any other band I’ve liked on Facebook.
Due to the new-found limitations with their equipment, the music’s changed drastically, because they’re just working with what they’ve got. But don’t let that deter you from listening to this, it still shines brightly in this year’s list of releases. ‘In Fields of Light’ consists of a keyboard, a guitar, and a guest on the trumpet. No drums, no bass, it’s a very airy sort of ambience, and it’s gorgeous. Even apple fans with their cheap earbuds can fully enjoy this track, so everybody wins.
‘Sunset on the Range’ is an acoustic rendition of a song by the same name, to be released with their upcoming album ‘When Those Around Us Leave’ and I must say that I’m very excited for this album, if the music is going to be this captivating. But then again, I’m biased. I’m a sucker for acoustic guitars in post-rock, so take that with a grain of salt, but the melody stuck with me for the rest of the day after I first heard this.
I would highly recommend supporting this band, even if only for the sake of charity. I will be supporting it when I can, in hopes of seeing the new album released a little sooner.
SAISA has been another band I’ve been meaning to get around to, and this Foofer Twofer’s given me an opportunity I can’t pass up. It’s even along the ambient strain of NOMADS, with its distant vocals and piano-driven ambience, it’s too perfect a pairing to ignore.
‘Aftermath’ is practically a dirge, with its mournful vocals, and drawn out melodies. The strings and piano bring images of funerals to mind (which is probably the point). As I pointed out with NOMADS, the lack of bass makes it a very airy, ambient sound, which is perfect for the forlorn timbre. When the crescendo begins, the bass is introduced in such a way as to not decrease from its ambience. It’s a very impressive feat, if you pay attention.
‘Agitator’ continues in the same tonality, with the addition of a distorted guitar, following the piano like a ghost. Overall, this piece sounds like Aftermath pt. II, but it’s so pretty I don’t even care. The attention to detail given to the crescendo is astounding, it’s not too fast, it’s not too slow, and it doesn’t get too loud, nor is it anticlimactic. Practically perfect in every way.
‘Heart Tree’ should be called ‘Aftermath (Reprise)’, it sound remarkably similar, with its vocals. Their English is impressively clear, which is something I’ve never really heard in a Japanese band before, outside of the occasional word or phrase. The way it reflects ‘Aftermath’ gives the EP a strong sense of closure, like the loop has finished, and the concept behind this album has been fully fleshed out before you. In my own weird opinion, this makes it perfect for listening to over and over, because it loops in on itself, becoming flush with its beginning. It’s pretty easy to get lost in it, too, since it’s only 18 minutes long. The tape perfectly represents that thought, with the whole album on both sides.
This can be purchased on digital directly from the band’s bandcamp page, and the tape can be bought through Keep It Together Records. (I did, and I’m in love with it. I would also recommend LITE, Low-Pass, and A Garden Overgrown).