MONO: A uniquely moving and highly emotional sonic landscape on new album “Oath”

The foursome, bassist Tamaki (the lone female in the group), drummer Yasunori Takada, and guitarists Takaakira “Taka” Goto and Yoda, released their first full-length record, Under the Pipal Tree, in 2001 on John Zorn’s Tzadik label. After switching to Arena Rock Recording Company in 2003, Mono issued One Step More and You Die; a remix version came out the following year as New York Soundtracks. That same year, their fourth album, Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined, recorded in Chicago with producer Steve Albini, was released on Temporary Residence. Albini performed the same duties on their April 2006 record You Are There, and in September the band issued Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain, a mix of classical and rock that also featured a collaboration with World’s End Girlfriend, among others.

Their fascination with classical arrangements, strings, and atmospheres became an integral part of their sound. In 2006 they recorded You Are There, which included cellos on one part of the album and a string section on another while retaining the dynamic- and tension-building sound that had become the band’s trademark, weaving beauty and chaos together to form an inseparable whole. On 2009’s Hymn to the Immortal Wind, the band played live with a 25-piece chamber orchestra that featured woodwinds, reeds, and strings – and added a Hammond B-3 in spots to extend the orchestral dynamic. This culminated in 2010’s Holy Ground: NYC Live with Mono accompanied by the Wordless Music Orchestra, another large chamber ensemble featuring everything from harp and strings to winds and piano. For 2012’s For My Parents, they employed a smaller chamber group conducted by Jeff Milarsky and dubbed the Holy Ground Orchestra, comprising two violins, two cellos, viola, upright bass, timpani, and cymbals.

After a global tour and a break, Mono returned to the studio in 2013 and recorded two albums simultaneously as parts of a whole. The Last Dawn was lighter, briefer, and more melodic; once again, it placed the band in sonic juxtaposition with strings. The second part, Rays of Darkness, didn’t include strings for the first time since 2003. It was far blacker and heavier, and featured a guest vocal appearance by Tetsuya Fukagawa of Envy. Both albums were released by Temporary Residence in October of 2014. The following year, Mono signed with Pelagic (the label of German metal act the Ocean). Both bands collaborated on a split album called Transcendental. The recording prefaced a joint European tour. Each band contributed a single extended track. Mono’s “Death in Reverse” served to complement the Ocean’s “The Quiet Observer” in that both cuts explored themes of life, death, and rebirth/regeneration, as well as the in-between “bardo” states. The album was released at the end of October by Pelagic. In July 2016, Mono released the 18-minute “Ely’s Heartbeat” on the Internet as the pre-release single from the full-length Requiem for Hell, issued by Temporary Residence that October.

In December of 2017, after the completion of an extensive world tour with the Ocean, Mono announced via social media that founding member Takada was leaving the group for personal reasons. He was replaced by Dahm Majuri Cipolla just in time for the live performances that began in August of the following year. Mono had entered Electrical Audio, again with Albini, earlier that year, and in January of 2019 issued the full-length Nowhere Now Here. To ice the cake on their 20-year anniversary celebration, Mono returned to Albini’s Chicago studio while on a tour break. They recut three of their earliest songs – “Com(?),” “L’America,” and “Halo” – live from the studio floor. They issued them without overdubs or post-production as Before the Past: Live from Electrical Audio. In March 2021, Mono released a document of its remarkable 2019 British concert as Beyond the Past: Live in London with the Platinum Anniversary Orchestra.

After the global COVID-19 pandemic ended the rest of their world tour, Mono spent the summer of 2020 writing, recording, and mixing. The end result, Pilgrimage of the Soul, was issued in October of 2021. It showcased an evolved sound offering faster tempos, electronics, and rhythms influenced by disco, techno, and other dance music. 2022 saw the release of their first score and soundtrack for the feature-length documentary My Story, The Buraku Story, by director Yusaku Mitsuwaka. The songs were largely built around piano, strings, synths, and choral vocal loops offering a sharp contrast in musical direction and production methods, but continued to offer understated execution and oversized emotional resonance.

On Christmas Day, Mono released the three-track EP Heaven, Vol. 1 for the Ocean’s Pelagic label in Germany. The EP marked the beginning of a tradition that would see the band issue an EP of new material annually on Christmas. Recorded by Taka in his home studio, it offered an aural portrait of Mono at their most hopeful and cinematic. The EP saw U.S. release by longtime indie Temporary Residence in March 2023.

Following the forced introspection and physical separation dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic a few years earlier, Mono collectively meditated on the notion of time, its passage, possibilities, and how it governs an individual life. On Oath, their 12th long-player, engineered by Steve Albini with an orchestra and chamber brass, they explored the notion of time and how to make the most of what remains to us. The 71-minute album was recorded by Steve Albini, who died suddenly a couple of weeks before it was released.

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About J.N.

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.
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