The conflict and correlation between dark and light is a universal theme with a historically rich history. Musically, perhaps no band in the 21st Century has mined that relationship more consistently or effectively than Japan’s MONO.
Across 10 albums in 20 years, MONO have convincingly reflected the quietest and most chaotic parts of life through their music. Their ever-expanding instrumental palette – which began in earnest in 1999 with the traditional guitar-bass-drums rock band setup – has evolved to include as many as 30 orchestral instruments. Now, on Nowhere Now Here, the band add electronics to their repertoire – perhaps inspired by guitarist/composer Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto’s recent collaboration with John McEntire, the beguiling Behind the Shadow Drops. Nowhere Now Here also sees MONO’s first-ever lineup change, adding new drummer Dahm Majuri Cipolla (The Phantom Family Halo) to the core trio of Goto, Tamaki, and Yoda. Tamaki also makes her vocal debut here, singing into the shadows of vintage Nico on the poetically hazy “Breathe”.
The unlikely career of MONO has taken them to virtually every corner of the planet, several times over. Those corners have all left indelible marks on their music, as it drills deeper towards the sound of feeling not quite human and all too human – often at the same time.
Under The Pipal Tree is the debut album by now-legendary Japanese experimental rock band, MONO. Released in 2001 on avant-garde icon John Zorn's Tzadik label, Under The Pipal Tree showcased a young Japanese quartet whose wide range of influences – most notably Sonic Youth, Mogwai, The Velvet Underground, and Neil Young's Crazy Horse – were on ferocious and ambitious display. Though MONO would eventually become known for their expert marriage of metal and classical genres, Under The Pipal Tree highlights the band's psychedelic roots. Long stretches of hypnotic, melodic washes give way to scorching guitar freakouts that evaporate into haunting silence. It's remarkable not just for its earnest exploration, but for its startling execution. Fifteen years and eight albums later, Under The Pipal Tree stands as one of the great debut albums by a seminal underground band.
MONO are a band driven by intangible conflicts. Their albums have found inspiration in the inescapable coexistence of love and loss, faith and hopelessness, light and darkness. Fittingly, their new album, Requiem For Hell, incorporates all of those conflicts into the one universal inevitability in life: Birth, and death.
Requiem For Hell finds MONO returning to longtime friend and collaborator, Steve Albini. After MONO and Albini's band, Shellac, toured Japan together last year, they realized how much they missed the (often wordless) creative dialogue they shared during the making of many of their most memorable albums – beginning with Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky... (2004) and culminating with Hymn To Immortal Wind (2009). The rebirth of the Albini collaboration for Requiem For Hell also coincided with the birth of a close friend's first child, whose actual in utero heartbeat serves as the foundation for the aptly named "Ely's Heartbeat". For MONO, it all felt so right, so inevitable.
Requiem For Hell is undeniably heavier and scarier than most of MONO's output to this point – hear the dizzying 18-minute title track for example – but it also carries some of their most sublime moments. This dichotomy is how one band’s obsession with conflict has manifested itself into one of underground music's simultaneously quietest and loudest catalogs.
The Last Dawn is the first of these two companion albums, and is the 'lighter' of the two, thematically and melodically. It contains undoubtedly some of MONO's strongest songs ever, drawing on an array of influences from minimalist film score to vintage shoegaze. It is MONO at their absolute purest, executing an uncanny, unspoken dialogue with each other without the dozens of stringed instruments that have been so prominent throughout their catalog. The songs are also noticeably more efficient – there hasn't been a MONO full-length record to fit on a single slab of vinyl since 2003's One Step More And You Die – and the album benefits immeasurably from this streamlined approach. MONO have always been masters of telling compelling stories without words. But now they've proven they can do it without frills, too.
Rays of Darkness is the first MONO album in 15 years to feature no orchestral instruments whatsoever. That fact alone is remarkable given the band’s reputation for sweeping, dramatic instrumentals that recall Oscar-worthy film scores. Instead, Rays of Darkness more closely resembles a jet engine taking off inside a small, crowded auditorium. It is MONO’s blackest album ever, a collection of scorched riffs, doom rhythms, and an unexpected contribution from post-hardcore pioneer Tetsu Fukagawa of Envy. The album ends with the smoldering wreckage of distorted guitars and ominous drones playing out a eulogy to the days when MONO shot blinding rays of light through seemingly endless darkness.
After years of exploring, searching ourselves, and composing pieces here and there, we found ourselves with more questions than answers. When we could not find these answers in the outside world, we were bound to turn inward. And so we went back to our roots. This is something we wanted to do while we still have the chance. What cannot be explained in words to parents, we hope can be captured by these songs. We hope that this album serves as a gift from child to parent. While everything else continues to change, this love remains a constant throughout time.
Live Album & DVD, 2010
To celebrate their 10th anniversary as a band - and the release of their acclaimed new album Hymn To The Immortal Wind - MONO and Temporary Residence Limted organized a once-in-a-lifetime concert in New York City. In association with the esteemed Wordless Music Series, MONO super-sized their already legendary live show with a 24-piece orchestra. Painstakingly recorded and mixed by famed producer Matt Bayles (Mastodon, ISIS, Minus The Bear), Holy Ground brilliantly captures every moment of whispered calm and breathless beauty with patient clarity. Included with the album is a stunning live DVD documenting the entire 90-minute performance, featuring live orchestral versions of many of MONO's most beloved songs. For a decade fans have clamored for a MONO album that matches the catharsis of their infamous live shows, and Holy Ground overwhelmingly delivers.
Just in time for their 10-year anniversary, MONO return with their fifth studio album, the absolutely massive Hymn To The Immortal Wind. The music is naturally majestic, with MONO's trademark wall of noise crashing beautifully against the largest chamber orchestra the band has ever enlisted. The instrumentation is vast, incorporating strings, flutes, organ, piano, glockenspiel and tympani into their standard face-melting set-up. While Hymn continues to mine the cinematic drama inherent in all of MONO's music, the dynamic shifts now come more from dark-to-light instead of quiet-to-loud. The maturity to balance these elements so masterfully has become MONO's strongest virtue - save for perhaps their uncanny ability to sound every bit like a plane crashing into a Beethoven concert.
Captured to tape by Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio studios in Chicago, IL, You Are There extends the cinematic drama of 2003's Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined (also recorded by Albini), while surpassing the sinister heaviness of 2002's lauded One Step More and You Die. MONO disproves the myth that an increased focus on intricate song structures and string arrangements comes at the expense of youthful energy and inspired aggression. With You Are There, MONO's representation of tragedy comes with an inherent joy, delivered with the hope that in all dark there is equal parts light. They're not heavy like Black Sabbath - they're heavy like Beethoven.
Tokyo, Japan's Mono are a peculiar group. While most bands offer up their sincerest and most genuine recordings in their infancy and spend the rest of their careers trying desperately to rediscover their youthful energy, Mono's trajectory has been quite the opposite. Their early recordings are a visceral homage to their past and present heroes - the documents of a band boasting an impressive symphony of sound in spite of their relatively small line-up. These days, they have become one of the most passionately aggressive rock bands of the last decade, executing their soaring crescendos, titanic sheets of distortion and dark melodies with the delicacy and precision of a folded paper crane. This flourish of hopeful creativity was captured by Steve Albini in the form of the eight pieces that make up their third album, Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined. More lush and orchestral than previous recordings, the album couples an overall slow-melting ambience with a thunderous drive that reaches far greater heights than the band's earlier work.
Since its original release in 2002, One Step More and You Die has become the monolithic cornerstone of MONO's discography. Every subsequent release has been inevitably (and perhaps unfairly) compared to this album, as if it were the band's high watermark, never to be dethroned. MONO brilliantly answered even the most stubborn of naysayers with 2006's transcendent You Are There. To celebrate that release, we dug into their back catalog and pulled out this masterpiece of dark dirge, repackaged with additional artwork. One Step More stared the "sophomore slump" threat square in the face and pummeled it from note one. Four years later we can confidently say that it sounds just as brutal and beautiful as it did the day it was laid to tape.
Live Album, 2017
"Live In Melbourne" is a live CD which was recorded during the "The Last Dawn/Rays Of Darkness" Australian Tour in 2015 and later mixed and mastered in 2016. The album portrays the night's live atmosphere vividly and are available strictly from merch booth, limited to 500 copies.
Split Album, 2015
"The theme of this track is life and death and regeneration. Even when our bodies decay and decompose, our souls will prevail unchanged. Our bodies will act as seeds for the next generation, while our souls will journey together into our new eternal life. This is the story we want to explore with our next album, a portrayal of our journey through life towards death; from living out our lives proud and high, to bodies immolating, infused with precious memories... and through the vast, noisy tunnel of space, we become pure souls - a single drop of water in the fountain of life." / Taka
MONO's theme for the WOWOW television mini-series 「かなたの子」 ("Kanata no Ko")
Collecting all of MONO's rare and out-of-print non-album tracks, Gone perfectly (and chronologically) displays their astounding growth, from the modest opening notes of "Finlandia" to the scorched finale of "Little Boy (1945-Future)." These tracks are culled from a series of highly sought-after releases, including the Japanese-only debut Hey, You. EP, their split LP with Pelican, the Cameron Crowe-commissioned Memorie dal Futuro vinyl 10", and The Phoenix Tree, their out-of-print EP for the storied Travels In Constants series. All tracks have been beautifully remastered from their original master tapes.
The Sky Remains The Same As Ever is a nearly two-hour document of the recording sessions for You Are There, and the several worldwide tours that followed its release. In addition to the dozen live songs that are documented in all their sweaty fury, the film captures the decidedly less glamorous aspects of being an underground rock band from a foreign country, expressing sentiments through body language out of necessity, and driving...lots and lots of driving. Most effectively, the film displays the friendships that have made MONO's journeys enjoyable, and the fanatical dedication that has made it all possible.
Collaboration Album w/ World's End Girlfriend, 2006
Just before recording their epic disasterpiece You Are There, MONO began collaborating with fellow Tokyo native and modern electronic composer world’s end girlfriend. The result is a five-part sojourn of neoclassical grace and luminescence that defies lazy categorization. As dark as the bottom of the ocean, and nearly as otherworldly, Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain finds MONO inhabiting an illuminated world previously only hinted at in their most orchestral compositions. Recorded in multiple studios in Japan last year, Palmless Prayer joins MONO’s increasing obsession with classical music with world’s end girlfriend’s mastery of subtle dynamic shifts. Forgoing their tendency to erupt into hellish bursts of speaker-destroying noise, MONO instead exhibits remarkable restraint, stretching song lengths past the 15-minute mark and turning barely-there crescendoes into earth-shaking events. Less an epiphany and more a reminder of the beauty that already exists all around us, Palmless Prayer is a miniature panoramic view of the sea on an eerily still day, the current swaying at an impossibly lazy pace and the sound of a thousand tiny waves crashing all at once.
Split Album, 2005
Remix Album, 2004