Mono – Holy Ground: NYC Live

This is a good record. When you write about the Japanese post-rock band Mono it is difficult because their sound is very hard to convey, and it is a sound that sometimes just has to be heard to be understood – in this case I will try my best to explain how this live album is a good release and probably better than most live records going around, but it is not great.

To me Mono is the best thing post-rock has going for it at the moment (apart from Godspeed re-forming). Mono, with their last LP Hymn to the Immortal Wind swayed between epic post-rock, monumentous climaxes and lush orchestration. The music they create is very dense and can fall prey to resembling a wall of sound travelling towards you faster than a freight train, and to the most extent they avoid this very well on this album. It is a difficult thing to balance such an expansive sound with delicate strings, and listening to opener Ashes in the Snow I can really seperate the ‘rock’ from the ‘classical’ which is great, because too often I am trying to find strings buried deep underneath earth shattering guitars.

And granted, some people find the monumental thrust of thunderous guitars, bass and percussion enthralling, but it is wonderful to hear Mono slow down and lose themselves in tranquility for a while and let the mind wonder, which is exactly what they do in tracks like Silent Flight, Sleeping Dawn and 2 Candles, 1 Wish. So, the oft fell into trap that live recordings fall into is the actual recording itself, here it is pretty well immaculate. Guitars are crisp when quiet and crunching when loud, strings are full and colourful, bass is deep and bellowing and the percussion is delicate and thunderous. I have no complaints here.

I began this review stating that this record is a good record, but not great, and here is why. Mono play the most clinical, textbook post-rock and they do it well, better than the rest one might argue. But have they been too fated over the last few years, have they become too perfect? It seems to me Mono have brought us to the Utopia of post-rock, and we’ve hung out in this blissful place for a while and now we want something better than this beautiful symphonic journey. And it is beautiful, enthralling, entrancing – but it is becoming all too familiar a cornerstone of Mono that they introduce a piece, they build, climb, journey through the piece and explode only to whither away.

Despite this, there are ridiculously enchanting moments on this record – Burial at Sea is something you must hear before you die. The whispy Halcyon (Beautiful Days) is enchanting to say the least, and the closer Everlasting Light ends tremendously. It is difficult to re-create a live show, to transfer the raw emotion and powerful nature of a transcendental moment in time. And with this release they almost do just that, but would I have liked to actually be there? The answer is a resounding yes.

Alas, it is not the end for Mono, and this only excites me to see where they go from here – because once you’ve reached the pinnacle that they have you cannot fly upwards, for we are only human – but I wouldn’t count Mono out of trying to jump off that ledge and blow me away.

Alex Stretton

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