Even among a surprisingly extensive Japanese post-rock scene, MONO have frequently been able to stand out high above so many of their peers. Sonic presence is definitely a factor, and given their reputation for cavernous walls of sound it’s not a minor one, but emotion is just as important, a feat that isn’t easy to master for a primarily instrumental band. And yet, perhaps better than anyone else in their genre, MONO have been able to capture such profound impressions of both joy and crushing despair in their music, inspired by the likes of Beethoven, Ennio Morricone and Danish director Lars von Trier in the forceful, calamitously heady soundscapes; if the best post-rock should sound like the soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist, MONO have often taken that idea to its upper limits.
It’s what gives MONO such a sense of portentous impact that a lot of post-rock simply can’t match up to, and if Nowhere Now Here is anything to go by, hitting that twentieth year of being in a band hasn’t dulled their impact whatsoever. This is the sort of album that makes post-rock truly shine, rich in sound and colour and with a keen ear for modulation that offers so much weight and emotional enormity, even though this is, for the most part, an entirely instrumental affair. And even if this is directly in MONO’s wheelhouse, it’s still rocketing past pretty much everyone else in their ilk, and that shouldn’t be ignored.
Even then though, Nowhere Now Here isn’t a safe or predictable listen by a long shot. There’s a dynamism that’s played with with such confidence, drawing on sources of light for Far And Further’s expertly constructed crescendo with its dedicated guitars and gauzy strings, or bringing it crashing down into the abyss on the hypnotic, doleful weight of After You Comes The Flood, or the tense build to swathes of discordant noise on Meet Us Where The Night Ends. Perhaps more than ever, this is MONO at their darkest and most meditatively aware of it all, knowing when to ease back and be consumed by it all on tracks like Parting and Funeral Song, or bringing bassist Tamaki Kushini forward for breathy vocal vulnerability against the restrained strings and bubbling synths of Breathe. But even with that being the case – and it’s presented in a way that’s effectively unavoidable – there’s a feeling of triumph that runs through it, maybe not in what the music itself offers, but in the sheer intent behind it. It’s enormous and sweeping in how MONO craft such intricate, extensive sonic layers, but still isn’t afraid to peel a few of them back and embrace that profound sense of richness. And above all, that’s where so much of the triumph comes from; as much as post-rock has been presented as an either / or situation in terms of light and dark, it feels almost insultingly simple to say that doesn’t have to be the case, and the fact that MONO continue to dip their toes into both and still remain as compelling and electrifying as they do makes for a more invigorated and fleshed-out final product.
All that being said, this isn’t too out of the ordinary for this band; the presence of electronics in a greater capacity might be, but overall, MONO are still relatively in their comfort zone with Nowhere Now Here. That doesn’t particularly matter though, especially when in a genre that can be as frequently dry as post-rock is, this is scaled out to show that the bigger, more elaborate picture can still dish out plenty of thrills. That mightn’t be the case for anyone who isn’t at least a bit invested in post-rock, and the hour-long runtime of this album can be enough on its own to scare away some of the less versed, but for anyone willing to take the plunge, there’s a fantastic album here that only continues to offer more and more upon every spin. MONO’s particular brand of post-rock has always been among the strongest and most resolute the genre has to offer, and it’s albums like this that show exactly why that’s the case.
For fans of: This Will Destroy You, Maybeshewill, Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Nowhere Now Here’ by MONO is released on 25th January on Pelagic Records.