click the picture for an album promo video

click the picture for an album promo video

Well seeing as this is my first post I thought I’d mention a couple of things about myself and where I’m coming from with respect to the reviews I will be doing in the future. Really there’s not much to know, I graduated from the world-famous Music Industry Arts program at Fanshawe College. I play in a progressive/post-rock band called The Yage Letters. The link to our site is just on the right there.

 

When it comes to art, and in particular music and film, I have 2 main creeds. First and foremost I believe that there is a monumental difference between personal preference and artistic quality. The inability for people to come to grips with this fact is a substantial fault in our society. One needs to be able to admit that they like something that has no artistic value in any way.  One also needs to accept the fact that a piece of well thought-out, artistically written art may not be their proverbial cup of tea. And that, by the way, is fine! There are a ton of albums and films out there are brilliant that I just don’t like all that much, but I’m still not going to be afraid to call them wonderful and important pieces of art.

 

The second is that no matter what genre of film or music you look at there are always decent artists doing something. One cannot impugn an entire genre of any kind wholly. This also comes back to my first creed. One’s preference may not be country, (in my case) death metal, folk, or whatever, but it’s downright outrageous to say there is nothing of value in any genre. There are literally hundreds of thousands of different people playing every genre or music and making every different type of film. Therefore if you dig deep enough, by the laws of nature and physics someone has to be doing something worthwhile!

 

So my goal with this blog is pretty strait forward. I feel like I have the knowledge and the general perspective to be able to talk about albums and films in matter that I’d like to share with others. I’m also one that is always talking about different works from both mediums to excess with friends and family, so I figure this may be a good way to save both parties from unnecessary rants and praise.

 

For my first review I was planning on doing a local metal act’s first major release. But then I listened to the newest album from a Japanese instrumental band signed to Temporary Residence. I’m talking, of course, about Mono.  I simply have to talk about this record for a number of reasons. Not the least is that it’s an easy start to the blog as I have been a fan of Mono since a good friend and band mate burned me a copy of their 2003 release from the same label called “One More Step And You Die”.  Since then I have been studying their catalogue and got a chance to see them at the Opera House last year where I witnessed one of the most powerful performances I had ever seen and will likely ever see again.

 

Promo shot for "You Are There" album

Promo shot for "You Are There" album

 

Their new album is called “Hymn To The Immortal Wind”, a concept album that parallels an epic love story. This album has more layers and imagery than I ever will be able to comprehend. It moves effortlessly between dark and light, joyful and heartbreaking, and evokes more emotion than any album I have ever experienced. The story, to me is told two different ways. One moves forward and one is moving from the end to the beginning as the contrasting imagery of life and death and the journey towards both is being shown.

 

The first time I heard the album I got a sense of a story moving backwards starting with death and finishing with life. I got the sense of being slowly drawn into someone’s life at their last breath and they are remembering the epic journey they took to get there and the one thing that mattered at the end, which was this one person in his life. It’s almost as if his life, though this one person, has flashed before his and our eyes. But after taking in the album, and entering the world that mono has created a number of times, I now see a different picture. I see a story about someone searching for his or her lover through endless trials and hardships but at the same time on a clearly laid out path. Searching with no other direction other than the one right in front of you no matter how hard they try to turn away. But it all seems to be happening in a different life as if both characters have died and are trying to find each other in the after life. But in both stories I get a sense of death leading to life in the end. I’m sure as I listen to this record many more times over the years it will paint many more pictures and tell more and more stories each time.

 

To highlight a couple of songs I’ll start with the first track. The album gets going with one of the five songs on the album that are more than ten minutes long called “Ashes In The Snow.”  The song gives a haunting start to the album with the rustling of the orchestra in their seats and the tapping of the conductor’s baton on his music stand. The song follows the traditional Mono structure for the most part. They establish a theme and without breaking away from it too much they use their dynamics to create a huge amount of intensity and space. It’s over 4 minutes before the song reaches it’s first peek and the extreme opposite right after leaves your body covered in goose bumps through till the end of the song. It’s the perfect start to the story line as it is the most reflective and emotional song but with a sense of hope at the end as well. At almost eight minutes, where the song finally gets to it’s ultimate peek we hear Yasunori Takada’s unique drums style that is pummeling yet still creates space and supports the overall size of the guitars and strings so well. It’s a hard song to top but the rest of the album follows it perfectly.

 

It is a concept record but each song has it’s own vibe as far as dynamics and theme. That being said tracks two and three I feel go together more than any others. Track two, entitled “Burial At Sea,” is the definition of a good strong build and should be an example in textbooks and music classrooms everywhere on how to do just that. When it reaches its’ ultimate peek at almost eight and a half minutes the drums are about as powerful a they come on any record. Tamaki Kunishi’s huge bass chords provide an enormous backdrop for everyone else throughout the record, but she is especially noticeable at the end of this song. She meshes perfectly with the drums allowing both guitars to create that vintage mono intensity throughout. When the song makes the transition to the six minute track called “Silent Flight Sleeping Dawn” its barely noticeable that the track even changed as it moves into a beautiful string and piano driven track that seems to be there almost in support or the second part of the conversation started in “Burial At Sea.” The strings and overall beauty of the song is enough to make you want to weep and is a nice break from the surrounding songs that are so intense it’s hard to have one after another.

 

The whole album is one massive highlight and every song has it’s own unique flavour. But in order to save some time I’ll just mention a couple things about the middle tracks. “Follow The Map” has perhaps the most gorgeous slide guitar I have ever heard, as “Yoda” and Takaakira “Taka” Goto are complete masters of their instrument throughout. The last song “Everlasting Light” is the perfect song to end on, and probably my favourite on the album. The hypnotic piano at the beginning with the effortless drone of the guitars is all that’s needed to draw you into the world this song creates and never let you go. It has probably the most unique and interesting chord progression on the album as well, straying a bit from the strait up major vibe of most of the album. It’s called “Everlasting Light” and I wish it were everlasting. It’s only ten and a half minutes long yet could easily be double that. They do such a magnificent job of building this song until the very end where the punishing climax of the whole album, followed by the immediate silence, leaves your body in chills for minutes afterwards. You feel like you’ve just been on a long journey and have had a shared experience with the band, the orchestra, the writers, and anyone else who worked on the album.

 

Speaking of working on the album, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t talk a bit about the production. This is the area on every record where I find it’s easiest to be picky and find fault, and believe me I was looking. I knew I would have a biased opinion coming into the record cause I was already a big fan of the band, so I was going through as closely as I could looking for any fault. And although at times there were aspects of the production I would have done differently, there is not even one mistake or bad decision. The album was recorded all analogue and you can tell. The warmth of the tape is the perfect compliment to this massive sound. The confined nature of pro-tools is something they did not want on the album that much is clear. It’s one of the most natural sounding records I’ve heard in a long time as you can hear the orchestra move in their seats during quieter parts along with the conductor talking at points.

 

The panning is basic. Yoda on one side, Takka on the other, and Tamaki up the middle at most points. That being said there is way more going on in the spectrum than you initially hear as different parts of the orchestra move in and out. The glockenspiel is also panned quite cool as individual notes will ping pong back and forth in the spectrum. As far as tone goes, as always, Mono are the best. They have some of most magnificent guitar tones around. I guess I also owe partial thanks and credit to Fender for that. As a lot of the spring reverb is obviously Fender and I’m sure they use Fender guitars throughout the record as the play Stratocasters, Mustangs, and Jaguars live. The bass tone, although it doesn’t change much, is the massive consistent undercurrent they need in every song and it is mixed perfectly for the guitars to rest on ever so gently.

 

Overall I really can’t say enough good things about this record. The writing, instrumentation, musicianship, production, and everything in between are nothing short of perfect. To me this is like Mono’s “Dark Side Of The Moon”.  It sounds to me like they have accomplished everything that they set out to do and maybe didn’t have the backing or time to do in their past records. It will go down in history as Mono’s quintessential album and establishes them, in my view, as the quintessential band in the genre. Not to take anything away from bands like Explosions In The Sky or A Silver Mount Zion, but this record separates Mono from all else. They are beyond post-rock now and should just be considered 21st century classical. There has never been an album that matches the sheer epic scale and size of this record. To put it bluntly it is one of the most important albums of all time! It’s one that must be listened to by anyone who enjoys well-written music. It might be a hard one to find in stores, but you can get a hard copy on CD or vinyl on their website for $12 and $20 respectively. If you’re ok with a digital copy it’s on iTunes for $9.99, and of course there are a few decent torrents out there. Normally I am not only ok with downloading but encourage it to avoid supporting major labels. But this is one that I strongly encourage to buy a hard copy of. This band, and the label they are on for that matter, is worth spending the money in order to give them the support!

 

So that’s all I have to say about that record. Later on in the week I will put up a review of, Odium’s first release called “At The bottom.”

 

Peace,

 

Hill