CD REVIEW – Mono – Pilgrimage of the Soul

Pilgrimage of the Soul is the 11th studio album in the 22-year career of Japanese experimental rock legends, MONO. Recorded and mixed – cautiously, anxiously, yet optimistically – during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020, Pilgrimage of the Soul is aptly named as it not only represents the peaks and valleys where MONO are now as they enter their third decade, but also charts their long, steady journey to this time and place.

Continuing the subtle but profound creative progression in the MONO canon that began with Nowhere Now Here (2019), Pilgrimage of the Soul is the most dynamic MONO album to date (and that’s saying a lot). But where MONO’s foundation was built on the well-established interplay of whisper quiet and devastatingly loud, Pilgrimage of the Soul crafts its magic with mesmerizing new electronic instrumentation and textures, and – perhaps most notably – faster tempos that are clearly influenced by disco and techno. It all galvanizes as the most unexpected MONO album to date – replete with surprises and as awash in splendor as anything this band has ever done.

MONO began in Japan at the end of the 20th Century as a young band equally inspired by the pioneers of moody experimental rock (My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai) and iconic Classical composers (Beethoven, Morricone) who came before them. They have evolved into one of the most inspiring and influential experimental rock bands in their own right. It is only fitting that their evolution has come at the glacial, methodical pace that their patient music demands. MONO is a band who puts serious value in nuance, and offers significant rewards for the wait. 

From a moody beginning to a reflective current situation, this album is full of mesmerising electronic instrumentation and texture, and – whisper it – tempos that influenced by disco and techno. Those extremes are present in opener ‘Riptide’ with a reflective almost classical opening before the wall of sound hits, a relentless riff, staccato drums, synth chords and guitars. Don’t ask me how or why, but it took me back to Steve Hackett’s Defector days. ‘Imperfect Things’, though commencing in a similarly delicate manner, builds more organically, layers of electronica coming into play, each reflective sound swirling to and fro before the band launches it’s drive to conclusion.

‘Heaven In A Wild Flower’ is as pastoral as its name suggests. Keys and strings to the fore, a delightfully ambient mood reigns over seven minutes of calm. ‘To See A World’ maintains a sense of the classical composition with a wider orchestral nature giving it a more angsty, dense, rock sound a la Leprous. A summary, if you like, in four minutes, of the world of Mono. ‘Innocence’ and ‘The Auguries’ maintain the style of patiently layered soundscapes , the former with grand and thunderous sweeping statements (and possibly my second favourite track), the latter ambitious and lofty, a musical yearning within it.

Then comes the epic twelve and a half minutes of ‘Hold Infinity In The Palm Of Your Hand’. Cinematic in scope, dramatic in nature, it has emotion, passion, desire, reflection, yearning, sadness and joy in abundance. It passes without force, it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, and it reaches a satisfying close through the album-ending ‘And Eternity In An Hour’, tranquility personified through the delicate piano repetition, synths and strings weaving over the simplest of motifs. Gavin Bryars comes to mind here.

An album of contrasts yet of unity. An album of hard- and gentleness. A series of cinematic and dramatic soundscapes with an aesthetic charm.

Tracklisting

  1. Riptide
  2. Imperfect Things
  3. Heaven in a Wild Flower
  4. To See a World
  5. Innocence
  6. The Auguries
  7. Hold Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand
  8. And Eternity in an Hour

Band Links
https://monoofjapan.bandcamp.com/album/pilgrimage-of-the-soul

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