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Mono - Under the Pipal Tree

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Artist: Mono

Album: Under the Pipal Tree

Label: Tzadik

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

John Zorn’s Tzadik label has been spotlighting the best and brightest of today’s Japanese music with their New Music Japan series for quite some time now, featuring incredible releases by bands such as Melt Banana and Ruins. The debut release by this Tokyo foursome known as Mono is also a part of that very same series. While the band shares some similarities with the others that have been featured in this series, there sound is markedly different than most of the Tzadik New Japan releases. Whereas bands like Ruins and Melt Banana favor bursts of noise that toe a fine line between tightly composed and ridiculously abstract, Mono spends the eight tracks of Under the Pipal Tree working through a series of heady, diffuse guitar epics.

"Karelia (Opus 2)," the album’s first track, basically sums up the long and short of Mono’s attack – quietly strummed guitars that gradually build to a distorted and delayed roar backed by a solid rhythm section. The volume breaks suddenly, though, allowing room for stray cello lines to wander in and out of the mix before the layers of distortion move right back in to close out the song. If anything, this is well worn territory that takes its influences from the usual cast of characters – bands like Sonic Youth, Mogwai, and even a bit of the Velvet Underground circa White Light/White Heat. The band separates themselves from those forebearers with their pronounced sense of melody – the guitars may scream and wail but at the same time there are always strong melodies hiding underneath the racket. It’s also during their intense builds that the band distances themselves as well. In addition to quiet guitars there’s also a strong sense of psychadelic ambience that adds a great effect to the songs. "OP Beach" strays from this formula, as does "L’America", both ditching the noise for a more straightforward and somber melody and relying on a balance between hushed guitar and the background ambience that gradually builds and fades throughout the song. "Error #9" heads back into the time-tested formula of building, grinding guitars coupled with firm rhythms. "Human Highway" closes out the album with more quaint melody that works itself up into a tense interplay with the cello once again before peacefully fading out the record.

Although the rhythm section of bassist Tamaki and drummer Takada Yasunori form a strong anchor for this album, it is ultimately the freaked out guitar work of Yoda and Goto Takaakira that make this album worth listening to. While the delicate fingerwork of the more quiet pieces on the record are quite enjoyable, it is the noise, feedback, and sheer layers of noise they create on longer tracks like "Karelia" and "The Kidnapper Bell" and then use as the basis for their melodic explorations that are the true strengths of their playing. The walls of sound they generate careen off each other chaotically until melodic guitar lines break through the fog and drive the songs home. Even when they cut the volume in their performances, the band never loses their intensity at all.

While this is a tightly played album that displays obvious talent and a knack for contrasting guitar thrash with harmony, the major problem that stems from this debut is the fact that it sounds remarkably similar to albums by the bands mentioned earlier, although most notably Scottish rockers Mogwai. This isn’t really a bad thing, either, as the album is still rewarding with each successive listen, revealing deeper and deeper layers of the bands thick and intoxicating sound. However, unless you’re a newcomer to this type of music there isn’t much here that you won’t have heard before. All in all, however, this is a good way for a band to start their recorded career. Hopefully in the future Mono won’t be as quick to work from the same pages as those who influence them, and instead work more with the delicate balance they create between psych rock, ambience, and noise. For now, though, if you’re just fiending for another post-rock album to while away those late evenings listening to, I can think of no better record to sample than this one.

By Michael Crumsho

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