Monumental Japanese post-rock band Mono returns to Bangkok with a new album and a new drummer
Mono, who manages to sound 10 times bigger than their four-piece membership might suggest, will make their fourth concert appearance in Bangkok on the 24th of this month.
In the world of wall-of-sound post-rock, the band has no peer, at least live. Taking their increasingly devoted audiences through heights of joy and depths of melancholy, they’ve been touring relentlessly for 20 years now. That’s almost as long as the now-getting-musty term “post-rock” has been around.
It was nearly 40 years ago that journalist James Wolcott used the term to describe the musical explorations of Todd Rundgren on his 1975 album Initiation. Rundgren had dumped his psych-garage band Nazz in 1969, passed through a commercially successful Philly soul stage in the early 70s, and with the release of Initiation, probed a part-orchestral, part-fusion approach to rock that saw the 35-minute suite “A Treatise on Cosmic Fire.”
By the late 1970s, German bands were exploring sounds explicitly inspired by post-modernism, including Einstürzende
Neubauten (Collapsing New Buildings), Tangerine Dream and others. The expanding Krautrock movement reached the British music scene via David Bowie and Brian Eno, following their two-year sojourn in Berlin in the late 1970s. In particular Bowie’s so-called Berlin Trilogy–Low, Heroes and Lodger (only Heroes was entirely recorded in Berlin)–applied influences from orchestral minimalists such as Steve Reich and Terry Riley. Eno, sometimes referred to as the prophet of post-rock, teamed with Bowie to elevate timbre, texture and colour over riffs and straight rhythm. His musical intent, he has said, was to create a “fictional psycho-acoustic space.”
This approach to rock recording was extrapolated upon in the 1980s by other UK bands, particularly Talk Talk’s Colour of
Spring (1986) and Spirit of Eden (1986). During this same period, Irish shoegazers My Bloody Valentine added long passages of double-picked guitar to the post-rocker’s toolbox. When Iceland’s Sigur Rós dropped into the scene in 1997, they sidestepped the lyrics issue by singing in a fabricated language that has been dubbed Vonlenska (Hopelandic), and which the band themselves describe as “a form of gibberish vocals that fits to the music and acts as another instrument.”
The same year, Scottish band Mogwai upped the stakes with the release of Young Team, an album that has inspired myriad post-rock acts around the globe. Likewise, Montreal’s God Speed You! Black Emperor pummeled droning guitar into similar
aural regions in 1997. Vocals became much less important, perhaps because listening to and understanding lyrics have the
potential to detract from your internal life story as interpreted while listening. Unfettered by language, instrumental performances instantly became more relevant, more universal–more marketable, if you’re a cynic–to cultures on every continent.
Movie music is a critical influence on Mono. Taka Goto, the band’s leader and guitarist, acknowledges he was heavily inspired by the films of Danish director Lars von Trier, in particular the 1996 film, Breaking the Waves.
Says Goto, “Music is a visceral, spiritual experience. [It] may trigger a dream you had, something that filled you with joy,
something you regret, a moment of sadness that you overcame, or something spiritual that cannot be explained. It’s up to the listener. For me, instrumental music creates the energy that helps me confront these emotions.”
Mono’s current tour supports their latest album, Nowhere Now Here, produced by Steve Albini of Nirvana and Mogwai fame
and released in January of this year. Although grounded in rock and metal as usual, for this outing the production adds
electronic elements for the first time, as well as trumpet for “Funeral Song,”
Bassist Tamaki Kunishi sings on one track, “Breathe,” the first time vocals have appeared in Mono’s work. Goto says, “With ‘Breathe’, there was something I really wanted to say with words. When I told Tamaki I wanted her to sing, she was very surprised. [But her] singing was more beautiful than I imagined. I feel that it turned out to be something that really echoes in people’s hearts.”
French filmmaker Julien Levy shot a sumptuous video of the band performing the tune live in a basement bar in Tokyo’s
Shibuya district, and for a longer track, “After You Comes the Flood”, from the same album, which moves into darkly nihilistic Gaspar Noé-style cinematic territory.
If you’ve seen Mono perform live before (I’ve seen two of their previous Bangkok shows), the upcoming Bangkok concert
promises not only new tunes but one new band member, Dahm Majuri Cipolla, an American drummer from the Louisville,
Kentucky, indie-rock scene replacing Yasunori Takada, who abruptly left the band in December 2017 for personal reasons.
“Now the band is filled with fresh strong energy like we were reborn,” says Goto. “We really feel that a new chapter has come.”
Upcoming Mono concert: Tuesday, 24 September 2019 from 8pm onwards. At Live Arena RCA