I reckon I saw more live music during 2012 than ever before, apart from the summers when I went to a music festival (I have tentative plans to attend FujiRock 2014…). Rounding off the year, just as the last of my disposable income disappeared in the run-up to Christmas, I was fortunate enough to see two of the most startling – and loud – Japanese rock bands during their respective UK tours. Lucky me indeed.
This was the fourth time I’ve seen the instrumental outfit MONO live, being as they are a band who tour extensively worldwide year after year. I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing Boris in a live setting before last weekend, although I knew them by reputation. If you don’t pay attention to anything that follows, remember this: both of these bands are a real treat. Go see ‘em if they’re playing near you.
There’s always that nervous feeling when you hear any new material from one of your favourite bands for the first time. If it’s different from what’s gone before it may clash with whatever expectations you may have had, and of course there’s the worry that the sound loses the special something that made you love it to begin with.
Throughout their career MONO have been placed alongside a distinct group of bands whose common characteristics are basically long, instrumental guitar-based songs. In recent years though they have moved away from this experimental rock-based format and have gradually crept closer to an ‘orchestral rock’ or neo-classical one. Their 2012 studio effort, For My Parents, is a continuation of that and holds back on the noise in favour of classical-style arrangements.
I often say that I have trouble putting thoughts about certain things into words. It’s difficult enough when discussing TV shows and movies but music? Ehh~. I’ve gone on about how Mono convey thoughts and feelings without even using lyrics but their live shows are some of those you-have-to-be-there moments. In case I’m tl;dr here then, take my word for it and grab a ticket if they’re touring near you. And take earplugs. It gets loud.
The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds is a great small venue (around 300 capacity, give or take) so while the sound isn’t of stadium quality it’s cosy enough and gives a sense of close-ness, for want of a better word, that’s more intimate to me than those larger venues. In this case the support act were a local band called Glissando and the headliners worked to a set comprised of highlights from their latest album and some old favourites.
In the space of a year or two I’ve grown to appreciate the sound of instrumentalists Mono, mainly because I’ve been a long-standing fan of experimental guitar-driven soundscapes. My initial reaction to their Gone compilation – the first time I’d listened to them properly – was a fanboyish exclamation of “Holy shit, a J-rock Mogwai!”, although in retrospect I was selling them short. It’s easy to lump bands together when something as obvious as the lack of lyrics is one thing they have in common, after all.
Their latest studio effort at the time of writing, Hymn to the Immortal Wind, is my favourite so far because of its cinematic, orchestral grandeur but Gone is a neat way of experiencing a cross-section of their sound’s evolution since the tracks are set out in chronological order. Over time the arrangements have become more structured and purposeful; tunefulness is a subjective thing but alongside similar bands Mono lean towards the more sentimental as well as being one that uses the power of volume to get the listener’s attention.
I know it’s a bit pre-emptive nominating a contender for Album Of 2009 when we’re only three months into the year but in recent days I’ve become so entranced by Mono’s latest effort Hymn to the Immortal Wind I’m pretty confident that we may already have a winner. It’s their fifth studio effort but apart from the EP compilation Gone this is the first time I’ve had chance to properly check them out…and I absolutely love what I’ve found.
The band’s sound is in the vein of Mogwai or God is an Astronaut in that the songs are almost all instrumentals with keyboards and occasional samples woven in between layered guitar lines. Although there are several bands, including the two mentioned above, who fall into the category of atmospheric post-rock or shoegaze this is one of the finest examples I’ve had the pleasure to hear so far: a tender yet emotionally-charged gem of an album that balances experimental guitar noise with staggering orchestral beauty. If it isn’t the best thing we’ll hear in the next twelve months I’ll enjoy being proved wrong.