Old Mono or new Mono? The latest twin release from one of the world’s most beloved post-rock bands allows fans to choose. This is such a great idea that it’s amazing no other post-rock band has done it before.
Post-rock fans – indeed, fans of most genres – are engaged in an eternal debate: is it better for bands to offer more of the same, or to experiment and develop? Each side has its merits. Preserve the formula, and fans will be pleased, although formulas can grow stagnant over time – and Mono has been around longer than most. Change with the times, and some will cry “foul” or even “sell-out,” while others will admire the spirit of risk. To change is to lose some old fans and to gain new ones. Mono’s move to the orchestral realm pushed their popularity to stratospheric levels (and the NYC Holy Ground concert – preserved on disc – was amazing). But some fans yearned for the purity of the early days (One Step More and You Die) and lamented that such days might never be heard again. To these fans, Rays of Darkness arrives as a miracle. To newer fans, and fans of the newer sound, The Last Dawn is a gift.
Lost in the (literal) shuffle is the crucial fact that old Mono is new Mono, and vice versa. Attend a concert, and one will hear songs and arrangements new and old. New albums don’t replace old albums; they add to discographies. And die-hard fans, despite the debate, will likely buy both of these albums. One can hardly picture a fan buying one to slight the other. The debate is part of the love, and everybody wants to be part of the conversation. I went a little overboard and bought both records and both CDs, but if one has limited resources, the vinyl is recommended. This way one can enjoy the intricate art in large, gatefold style – something that cannot be appreciated in a smaller format – and marvel at the lovely, smoke-tinged vinyl, slightly different on each record.
“Recoil, Ignite” is the highlight of the entire set. One can taste the track on Soundcloud, but the full work is thirteen minutes long. This is old school Mono, indeed old school post-rock, and every bit as magnificent as one would hope. The track is so powerful that it might even entice fans of new Mono to check out old Mono ~ a secondary goal that may have been part of the initial equation. While 2014 has yielded many excellent post-rock albums and many solid post-rock tracks, this is the single best post-rock piece piece of the year, a savage juggernaut that obliterates everything in its wake. The builds, the drops, the interludes, the crescendos, the catharsis – it’s all here. If you’ve been a fan for a while, this alone will make the purchase worthwhile. Rays of Darkness is short – only 35 minutes – and the rest of it is a long trek from this peak – but it contains a few other surprises as well. After one is lulled by the lovely horns of “Surrender”, one walks right into a trap: the abrasive vocals of Envy’s Tetsu Fukugawa on “The Hand That Holds The Truth”. This is not the band’s best idea, but it’s a brave one, shattering expectations and opening the door for “The Last Rays” an experimental drone track packed with feedback, static and squall, beyond all hope of pacification.
The Last Dawn is lighter by design, in line with Mono’s recent works yet toned down from its heights. No 40-piece orchestra graces these tracks, yet an orchestral sensibility still inhabits their grooves. At 48 minutes, this is also a short album; the two were close to fitting on a single schizophrenic disc. Like Rays of Darkness, The Last Dawn begins with the longest track, the eleven-and-a-half minute “The Land Between Tides / Glory” (technically a medley, but a single track for operating purposes). Again, one imagines this signature piece as a set closer, but the longer, leaner build makes it perfect to launch the set. By the halfway mark, the music has morphed into the wall of sound Mono that fans have grown accustomed to hearing in recent years. Relenting in its later minutes, the track exposes the piano that has been a hallmark of Mono since the early years: a touch of the old sewn into the skin of the new. And then, eleven minutes in, the strings. The music grows more accessible from here, beginning with the languid “Kanata” and culminating in the military drums of “Where We Begin”. Surprise is no longer a factor: elegant beauty is the hallmark of this creation, a clear continuation of the sounds found on 2012’s For My Parents.
Which will you like better? Let the debate begin. One topic that is free from debate: Mono has given its fans the opportunity to have it both ways, a generous gesture from a veteran band. (Richard Allen)