Along with Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, and Godspeed You
Black Emperor, Mono is at the head of the post-rock subgenre sometimes known as
crescendo-core, which takes the loud-quiet-loud formula of the Pixies, slows it
to a crawl, and stretches it out until the tension is almost unbearable. At its
best, it’s mesmerizing, beautiful, and unsettling, all at the same time.
And make no mistake about it, Mono might be the best of the
bunch, and Hymn to the Immortal Wind may be the Japanese quartet’s highest achievement. The fact that the band
enlists both producer Steve Albini and the largest orchestra it has yet worked
with should tell you something; the sound is intimate and unvarnished even as
it strives for (and achieves) grandeur. Indeed, the orchestra is more prominent
than on any of Mono’s previous outings. Legato string and woodwind phrases are
front and center on “Silent Flight, Sleeping Dawn” and “Follow the
Map,” the album’s two shortest cuts, with the band’s guitars providing an
insistently pulsing undercurrent on the former and rationing out slow, delicate
leads on the latter.
The album opens and closes with its two masterworks, pieces
that at once stay truest to Mono’s majestic ethos while at the same time taking
it to new emotional peaks. Opening the
album with delicate chimes and lilting guitar lines, “Ashes in the Snow”
explodes at the three-minute mark into a release that evokes Ennio Morricone’s
sweeping film scores, then quiets back down and repeats the cycle in more
forceful fashion until it crashes into dissonance for its final thirty seconds.
The closing “Everlasting Light” is simply
heartbreaking, with a tentative piano melody joined by a swell of strings and
then the inevitable-but no less breathtaking-tidal wave of guitars and drums
that washes over the last four minutes of the nearly 11-minute track, the
strings rising higher and higher until all the instruments join in unison for a
dozen staccato bursts that bring the album to an end.
Standout Tracks: “Ashes
in the Snow,” “Everlasting Light” ERIC SCHUMACHER-RASMUSSEN