Post-Rock is the ultimate Marmite genre. For some it is a limitless exploration of musicality through carefully expanding soundscapes and subtle rhythms, but for others it is tedious, pretentious and a waste of time. When a band eschews vocals and is completely instrumental, then you have one of the least accessible propositions on your hands. In this Venn diagram we find Japanese trio, MONO.
MONO are far more than the post-rock moniker would have you believe. Stretching far into the reaches of contemporary classical and avant-garde, Nowhere Now Here is an eclectic blend of various styles, each less popular than the last. You can’t accuse this band of playing it safe or going for the mainstream. God Bless opens proceedings as strained strings swell beneath breathy brass, segueing into the first song-proper; After You Comes the Flood. Centred around a simple guitar motif from Takaakira Goto, the song slowly builds to its glorious crescendo. The percussion and bass thunder around Goto’s refrain like a maelstrom, enveloping and growing around a calm centre. Tamaki Kunishi’s bass on this song stands out as a particular highlight; heavy distortion creates a claustrophobia that delivers the emotional heft the band are clearly looking to convey.
Breathe opens with a softly played, lurking synthesiser. There’s an eerie and almost threatening feeling to the start of what turns out to be the most hopeful track of the record. A delicate and half whispered vocal performance – the only one of the album – acts as further instrumentation, exaggerating the triumphant bitter-sweetness that greets the listener. It acts as a misdirection for the remainder of Nowhere Now Here, as from here on our, melancholy is the name of the game. The title track is an epic and desperately bleak affair, consistently growing in intensity. The orchestra brings an extra bombast and grandiosity to an already monolithic song, and one that is drenched in sadness. It feels as if the song were composed to define mourning, much like Pijn’s 2018 effort, Loss. It’s beautifully constructed, like a fine ornament; beautiful to behold and marvellous in its creation.
It is around this point in the album that cracks begin to show in the porcelain. The album, for all its flair and adept instrumentation, is far too long. After the highlight of the album, Sorrow, there is a slow decline to the end point as every song appears to follow the same pattern. The ebb and flow of the band’s skilful dynamism becomes predictable as you can hear each crescendo coming a mile off. What’s worse is that when said crescendos do arrive, they are muddied by a poorly planned production job. The wall of noise that greets the listener does nothing to serve the songs and leads to points of subtlety being lost in a cacophonous mess, never more so than on Meet Us Where the Night Ends, in which the guitars are washed away in a sea of bass distortion.
Nowhere Now Here is an admirable album. Sublimely well crafted and clearly made by dedicated and proficient musicians, it is a wonder of instrumentation. It does however suffer from its production, and is most certainly overwritten; a little restraint would go a long way. Where the album shines most is in feel. Despite not having a vocalist, the lyricism of the guitars conveys the bleak emotion the album exists within, and paints a painfully beautiful picture worth more than a thousand words.
Nowhere Now Here is released on Friday the 25th of January 2019 through Pelagic Records.