More than two decades in and now on their eleventh full-length, it’s safe to say that we’re at a point where we more or less know what to expect from MONO. But even after the strides made in the genre since their formation, there’s no one out there who comes close to imitating the invigorating post-rock that has defined the Japanese veterans’ discography thus far, and thus each and every new release from the four-piece is an event to be savoured. Ultimately, Pilgrimage Of The Soul is another gorgeous record in a career lined with them, and that’s all it needs to be.
In post-rock the name of the game is suspense, a slow ramping up of tension that makes the eventual crescendo all the more impactful. MONO’s application of this technique does not drastically alter the blueprints of the genre, but it does differ in some significant ways. These tracks do tend to favour a quieter start that eventually navigates its way towards a more dramatic finale, but within this decidedly predictable approach MONO vary in that they don’t see the lighter moments as being in service to the heavier ones, instead the mellow and the abrasive are happy to commingle.
Even when the music swells and the guitars pick up, whether it’s an instant spark as on opener ‘Riptide’ or a tantalisingly measured and seamless wind-up as on ‘Hold Infinity In The Palm Of Your Hand’, it often feels like an extension of the soothing soundscapes that come before – not so much a moment of tense quiet interrupted by brutality as a small microcosm of effervescence suddenly blooming into something grand and majestic. Elsewhere, two of the record’s most stunning tracks, ‘Heaven In A Wild Flower’ and ‘And Eternity In An Hour’, drop the “-rock” suffix entirely, the latter track proving to be an achingly poignant closer that’s just as impactful in its orchestral scope as any metallic riff-storm could be in sheer volume.
MONO’s sound is a delicate balance of dynamics and it’s clever then that any progression and experimentation is subtle, subsuming itself into the band’s established approach. An amorphous electronic motif floats delicately across the intro of ‘Imperfect Things’ like a feather atop an ocean, remaining in place even as the waves roll past it. Similar electronic tinkering was present at times on 2019’s Nowhere Now Here, and it’s deployed here in a way that’s curiously effective despite being used so cautiously.
That caution is what stops the experimentation from ever interrupting the dramatic flow of the album, and that’s key given that the title Pilgrimage Of The Soul seems to touch on that sense of the record being a sort of sonic journey. In the ebbs and flows of the album it can certainly feel like a saga with its own peaks and troughs, but when listening the one constant is you at the centre of this musical maelstrom. Instead of a journey, Pilgrimage Of The Soul feels like a refreshing wave of cool water on a warm day. There’s no need to go along with the current, instead let it wash over you.
Pilgrimage Of The Soul is out now on Pelagic Records and can be ordered here.
Words: George Parr