‘Well to paraphrase The Beatles, it only takes 730 holes to fill the Village Underground, and we did it.’
That was the message emanating out from the startlingly accommodating backstage realms of the Shoreditch haunt last Saturday sometime gone eleven: a statement of triumph in adversity, and of aspirations of grandeur simultaneously. MONO, the understated though musically overblown troupe from Tokyo came, saw, conquered and astounded to leave all dumbstruck and indeed dumb. After the most intense ninety of live music thus far this year, words failed us. All of us. Thus to render this unmistakably magical experience in mere words – whether fanciful and/ or plentiful – feels somewhat futile. It would surely be the epitome of the hackneyed idiom: the dancing about architecture; the laborious expression of inexpressible emotion. There were 730 individuals in there, and they were held unerringly rapt by but four. MONO were here working with miraculous ratios, but then that was surely to be anticipated…
Their latest, For My Parents, is their most affecting piece to date – the quartet’s magnum opus, and indeed a yardstick against which all emotive post-rock must now be measured for all eternity. Though live, as though one of Satoshi Tajiri’s fictitious critters, it evolves into something altogether transcendent. They both maintain and amplify that masterful control over the dynamic between the sternum-wrenchingly beautiful, and that lung-puncturing brutal. For the most part, however, it’s the former effect they place most emphasis upon.
Another show born of Tokyo, and to follow in Boris’ thunderous footsteps another gong. It ripples into animation – anime, even – as Legend comes into being. This is music for an ethereal, and eventually triumphant conquest – the like we’re only accustomed to from Tolkien’s nib. Though it’s one that, over an exhaustive running time, ultimately proves too to be fictional in overriding aesthetic, in that it really feels too good to be true. Pertaining to a soft deftness at times, whilst sounding as though a tumultuous Hokusai crest thrashing into reality at others just as the written word could never do the night justice, the exposed brick echo chamber that is the Village Underground could never contain its searing majesty. Arguably, only the Royal Albert Hall ever could.
Though with its classical affiliation, such notion arouses one of two qualms with tonight. The first is that For My Parents (and, to a lesser extent, previous LP Hymn To The Immortal Wind) thrive off of lavish orchestrations. It would perhaps be enough to melt even the most resolutely harsh of minds with a snow-soft splendour were they ever to return and recite these works as they were originally intended, though to witness that would surely be the be-all and end-all of utterly everything. The second is that MONO channel a breathtaking, word-thieving expressivity that is so otherworldly that at times it seems as though it could benefit from any form of sensorial accompaniment other than the exclusively sonic to at least attempt to tether it to our terrestrial mundanities. As with all things MONO, it’s hard to really explain and validate this, and would be harder still to find visual material worthy of this great rarity – ear indulgence to render the mouth all but entirely useless. [Though Evosia Studios’ A Journey Through Iceland time-lapse once worked wonders to the tune of this surging opener.] Tonight, aural tumult is the omnipotent force to overwhelm throughout, and despite the sound proving to be wholly immersive there is no letup; no release; no distraction, even. As such, an unfathomable magnitude in sound is not only achieved, but also sustained quite commandingly for what is a rather prolonged period.
Legend ebbs away, only to be replaced by the reverberant clatter of a commensurately effective Nostalgia. Guitarists Takaakira Goto and Hideki Suematsu flank the both visually and sonically central rhythmic robustness anchored in place by bassist Tamaki Kunishi and gong thunderer Yasunori Takada. They sit, motionless, as though two marooned Pacific leviathans; faceless emperors fallen from grace. They bathe the night in unabating, globular splashes of tremolo that cascade like the perfectly spherical blobs to flicker from a slo-mo waterfall centred at the very heart of Hokkaidō. Aptly, MONO tonight make Boris out to be this geographically inferior island when set against the sheer immensity of, say, a misty Unseen Harbor. They are Honshu; they are Japan. Then, I lamented a lack of passion on behalf of a momentarily disenchanted audience and tonight the mood is apparently comparable. Such impassioned endeavours surely deserve a more fervent response, however? But then maybe that’s just it: that in silence and stillness, we articulate an utmost respect… Certainly Dream Odyssey is compellingly transporting, and is the ideal one to drift in and out of as you can almost feel yourself ascending to gaze down from above as though the whole thing were some metaphysical out-of-body. We’re only brought crashing down again by the unending scrunching of unreasonably exorbitantly priced cans midway through. It’s the only instance in which you’re left feeling as though you’re drowning in aluminium, as opposed to an all too ephemeral, if somehow emancipating sorrow.
Though for MONO to roll through For My Parents as it was initially laid down and made up – as it should indubitably be, given the album’s immaculate coherency – is perfection itself. And the power of dichotomy again comes into play: for much of the record both in this public indulgence as well as in a more private intimacy pertains to the acute placidity of Ryōan-ji’s kare-sansui at the same time as it does to the insistent sense of this being how it would surely feel to ride galloping white horses toward certain quietus. Thus as with the Kyoto rock garden aforementioned, the four-piece keep something from us as they remain distant, detached and, ultimately, unknowable – another great Oriental enigma. There, from no angle can the face of every stone be seen. Here, meanwhile, it feels as though no stone is left unturned, as they call upon the mushrooming desolation of Pure As Snow (Trails Of The Winter Storm); the bleak and thoroughly blizzard-like instrumental balladry to Everlasting Light; the tingly inertia of Follow The Map. Though it is only from their most recent few records that they derive what is, to all extensive purposes, an amalgam of stark opposites, it makes lucid sense as a tight encapsulation of both who and where they are as a band right now. They’re surfing the froth-laced, quicksilver crest of nonpareil, clasping at the glistering coattails of the supernal.
Thus musically, again MONO exemplify themselves as the irrefutably exemplary overlords of the post-rock genre. They play off an immersive detachment that, like a heaven-dwelling cloud, is inviting to the eye though deceptive to the touch. Were you to recline, you’d soon fall back down to earth. Though MONO are, as previously stressed, not all that much to the eye. However on these sorts of evidence they’re overtly concerned with the sound as opposed to the sight – a band to go and hear live, as opposed to going to see. This, among many other facets, sets them well apart; above, and of course beyond. And, where they imbue the evening with the aura of the faintly apocalyptic, the presiding thought is that if we’re all goners come the 21st, those 730 holes filled in the eternally infernal Village Underground were smiled down upon by something truly divine, or rather by four certain someones descended from the very same celestial domain.
“They just make a beautiful noise”, one of the 730 chimes still bewildered come tonight’s close. In my agitated haste, noise came up as noose in my frantically punched notes though they’ve demonstrated far too much invigorating optimism to allow for such hopelessness, even if despair does indeed reside within. He wasn’t wrong, and I sincerely hope I’ve not wrongly emphasised the itself emphatic brilliance of MONO – a MONOlithic live proposition irrespective of whatever fate befalls us all come the dawning of December 21st.