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Mono - You Are There

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Artist: Mono

Album: You Are There

Label: Temporary Residence

Review date: Feb. 28, 2006

It's been a couple of years since Mono’s last album, Walking Cloud.... In the interim, it must be said, their sort of instrumental, overtly cinematic rock has been less in evidence; even their label-mates Explosions in the Sky were quiet aside from a reissue of an earlier album. In fact, seems as though instrumental rock's been taken over by a heavier contingent, from Pelican and SubArachnoid Space to Grails and Kinski.

Rather than taking inspiration from Earth, Neurosis, and Black Sabbath as do some of those others, Mono harken back to the likes of Popol Vuh and Ash Ra Tempel. Alternately light and dark, the album moves from shadowy guitar filigrees and gorgeous sweeping strings into bombastic, emotional peaks. Certainly, people will inevitably point back to Mogwai's similar peak-and-valley approach, but Mono manage to make both the valleys more subtle and beautiful, and the peaks more powerful.

Of the six songs on You Are There, four of them exceeed 10 minutes in length, but it's almost irrelevant. The album as a whole can be considered one hour-long journey through gentle nocturnes to flaming car-crash explosions, and all the spaces between.

The opening "The Flames Beyond the Cold Mountain" eases the listener in with an initial prettiness, growing very slowly in mass. Six minutes later, the drums really kick in and launch the music skyward, and a minute later intense fuzz pushes it into the red and out into space. Closing epic "Moonlight" surprises with a break into full-on string section arrangement, and is, in fact, composed into seeming shorter movements, building on each other but somewhat independent as well.

The almost 16-minute "Yearning" perhaps embodies everything about Mono. The opening is near-silent lonely guitar, joined by the drums and bass as a slow rhythm takes shape around the guitars. It gets heavier and more solid as time goes on, and the guitar thickens and pulls the song upward. Finally, seven minutes in, with a roar of distortion and beautiful violin accompaniment, a catharsis is reached. All too soon, the song collapses back to near-silence, then the band crashes back into full throttle with no warning – sure, it's a trick, but a good one. What matters is that from there, Mono are able to keep the level of intensity up, while also maintaining the emotional attachment. It's heavy, crashing, loud, and simultaneously pretty and melancholy. At times, they nearly approach the density of Boris, albeit with a more emotional component.

Mono's music is resolutely minor-key: the imaginary movies to which these songs are the score are certainly not comedies. The risks the band take are twofold. First, that their strategy of building from quiet to loud passages will become predictable; and second, that the mood and flavor will be too similar throughout. They sidestep the former thanks to imagination and simple quality; when a song starts, you know that the pastoral quality will be shattered eventually. But the nature of that catharsis varies enough on You Are There album, and is satisfying enough that it doesn't matter if you know it's coming. Besides, some of the shorter songs actually don't reach those peaks of intensity, preferring to remain on the quiet side.

The latter issue of mood is purely a matter of taste. There is bittersweet beauty here, but there's no question that it is surrounded on all sides by a minor-key dolor. That certainly doesn't bother me, but those seeking pop brightness may long for some sunlight amidst the twilight. If so, it's their loss.

By Mason Jones

Other Reviews of Mono

Under the Pipal Tree

Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined

Hymn to the Immortal Wind

Holy Ground: NYC Live with the Wordless Music Orchestra

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View all articles by Mason Jones

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