Mono - Hymn To The Immortal Wind By 12"
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To an extent, Mono resist critical analysis. The Japanese instrumental quartet has no lyrics to parse. It has little pop culture impact. The group has many imitators, but it remains superior. It is no longer formally interesting. For 10 years, it has unfurled long songs with quiet beginnings and stormy climaxes. Mono albums are different in the way AC/DC and Motörhead ones are: they contain new combinations of old ingredients. Once a band establishes itself in music's canon-- and Mono has, next to post-rock colleagues Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky-- one either accepts or rejects its formula. The formula then replaces the canon as the critical yardstick. Now we compare Mono against itself.
What makes Mono most critic-proof is their goal: to make the listener feel. Much music has this goal, but with Mono it is writ large. Melodies are achingly pretty; climaxes are blitzkriegs of flying hair and frantic strumming. Mono's songs are essentially power ballads. What separates them from Céline Dion is a post-modern sense of cool: no lyrics to make sentiments cheesy, no over-production to earn critical scorn. Because they move slowly, Mono seem more cloaked than Dion. But they drop the hammer just as hard. Most Mono songs have a step-on-the-distortion-pedal moment that raises the emotional stakes. There's nothing wrong with that. Pixies, Nirvana, and Metallica all did it. Mono are better at it than most. "Better" is a subjective measure, though. Critics can analyze lyrics and sociocultural impact. But critics are no good with feelings. Explaining why a melody works is expressing the ineffable. (Sure, there's music theory. But V chords resolve to I chords all the time as they should, yet some bands do it better than others.) Most of the time, Mono's melodies work. That's why thousands flock to Mono shows and often cry there. Crying, of course, is the end of rational thought.
Hymn to the Immortal Wind has probably caused floods of tears. That's a description, not a dis. The melodies are more sure-handed than ever. They are like missiles locked onto emotional buttons. More independence in the guitars helps sharpen this aim. The rhythm guitar often complements the lead guitar with counter-melodies, instead of merely shadowing it. Also, the band hired a chamber orchestra this time. Mono have augmented their sound in the past with small string ensembles. But now strings are all over the place, making everything bigger, lusher, and weepier. This is a mixed blessing. On one hand, the band has lost whatever skeletal veneer it had. In the past, with just two guitars, bass, and drums, it maintained some mystery before distortion pedal moments. Now it's filled in all its cracks. But, boy, do the strings amp things up. "Everlasting Light" is a good old-fashioned piano ballad that mushrooms to a Titanic-sized finale. Ms. Dion would be jealous. It's emotional manipulation of the highest order -- and that's OK. Surrendering to it is called "enjoying music."