29 March 2009

Mono – Hymn to the Immortal Wind

Conspiracy Records (2009)

More FACT-age...

Post rock’s dead, innit. What was an exciting, experimental avenue in the mid 1990s turned into an earnest search for glistening, actual-rock, perfection at the turn of the century. Both eras had their moments of greatness: Tortoise, the first Papa M album, Ui and Gastr del Sol. Kid A, Levez Vos Skinny Fists Comme Antennas to Heaven and the heartbreakingly perfect Lift To Experience.

But somewhere the bombast was turned up to twelve (modern compression techniques mean “two louder” now constitutes the extra push off the cliff), ‘post-rock’ became ‘indie’ and it all got a bit crap. I blame this decade’s output from Sigur Rós and Explosions In The Sky, as they smothered us in metric tonnes of cotton wool and candy floss; mile upon mile of cod-Romantic dross.

Japan is a bit different though their rockers have a habit of taking arguably stake genres and making something new and great out of them, like Guitar Vader (garage rock), Corrupted (sludge), Ghost (epic folk rock), Xinlisupreme (noise-pop) and Boris (all of the above). And, since 2000, Mono has been refining the art of post-rock.

Their last album, You Are There, was pretty much the peak of this generation of post-rock. Around this time, they blew Jesu off the stage when the two bands toured together. The band also collaborated with the mysterious and wonderful World’s End Girlfriend: has some of his (her? Its?) magic rubbed off?

Yes and no. this is still epic post rock as has become the norm in the last few years. It’s just been refined to the point of no return. Opener ‘Ashes in the Snow’ makes it clear that bigger is better in the eyes of Mono: post-rock is now pre-symphony, as the orchestra swells, the band apparently wooing Hollywood with their massive production.

This is post-rock as soundtrack. Mono’s music always had a visual edge to it, and for most of …Immortal Wind, you can imagine the equivalent of Dark Knight or The Fountain flickering on the silver screen. This is how big the music has become, and if it means I can stop hearing that Clint Mansell tune every time I go to the cinema or watch the football, then all the better.

The album’s peaks are the lengthy ‘Burial at Sea’ (sadly not a dubstep reimagining of Neil Young’s On the Beach) and surprisingly brief ‘Follow the Map’. Both are dynamic works of art; justifying the continued existence of post-rock in this post-everything climate.

That is not to say the music is original. To anyone familiar with the genre, the comparisons come thick and fast. ‘Everlasting Light’, lovely though it is, comes with a scratched-off ‘Godspeed’ label. ‘Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm)’ is an uninspired – and less subtle – retread of Mogwai’s genre-high ‘Ex-Cowboy’. ‘Silent Flight, Sleeping Dawn’ is promising, but too short to effectively use the Mono dynamic.

Hymn to the Immortal Wind is the definition of a genre piece. While executed with aplomb and much enthusiasm, one has to imagine this is it for this type of music. Whether Mono go on to soundtrack the next Chris Nolan film, or scenes of icebergs plunging into the sea for David Attenborough, the well of inspiration has apparently run dry.

Cut to: The horizon. Looming ominously, black cloud overhead, is a new Explosions In The Sky record.

Fade to black…

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