As it collects all of their non-album rarities, Gone is not the most coherent Mono release, but it does have their signature glacial pace and sonic atmospheres that are narcotic, inspiring, saccharine, or absolutely blistering. “Finlandia” (from their Japan-only debut EP) builds incrementally into a piece that captures the group at their most sublime and transcendent. Listening to the gentle ticking of drumbeats and the ascending guitar chimes is like watching snow falling onto a wintry terrain, from behind the window of your warm bedroom. The reverie is eventually disturbed by an increase in volume and distortion at the end of the track, but the feeling of warmth holds, as if snowballs are thudding against the window but not shattering the pane. There is a more uneasy feel to the longest piece here, “Yearning” (originally from the split album with Pelican) and, as is typical of Mono, an abrasive climax that comes well before its 15 minutes are up.
Two excerpts follow from Memorie dal Futuro, a soundtrack commission which initially wanders into the expansive Texas landscape normally traversed by Explosions In The Sky, but then smashes the pretty mood with Wagneresque slabs of sound. The second excerpt, “Due Foglie, Una Candela: Il Soffio del Vento” has a pleasingly distinct nocturnal atmosphere as a stand-alone piece, even as it seems a typical Mono linking device. Gone ends with four tracks from the 2006 release “The Phoenix Tree”. These include “Black Rain” wherein a female voice speaks French in a dispassionately alluring manner and “Rainbow” which has some shockingly glossy string arrangements as well as post-rock fragments of the exhumed bones of a hideously familiar, and much covered track, that was written by a still surviving Liverpudlian moptop.
Allow me to expand on the latter part of that sentence. Any consideration of Mono usually makes reference to the somewhat elitist term “post-rock”. The best illustration of the theory underlying that genre is an album that is yet to be released, Potpie’s Standards is a series of drones derived from the essence of “classic rock” songs. The point being, due to over-exposure there are some songs that we can no longer stand to listen to, and which can therefore no longer really be heard. In order to exist, post-rock extracts some key chords, phrases, or notes from an exhausted pop music history. In the process hype and lazy association are stripped away, and what remains is invested with new meaning by a focus on repetition, symphonic nuance, and a fairly narrow palate of the permissible.
So, Mono has been using traditional rock and classical instruments to examine the square root of familiar sounds and create their own musical language from a shuffled set of discarded symbols. It certainly works in performance. When I saw the group play in New Orleans a few years ago, it was a tantalizing evening, despite having to drink wine out of a plastic cup. The air crackled with fleeting sensations of exaggerated allure, as bittersweet waves of sound engulfed us. There was a simultaneously accelerated and slowed sense of time passing, as the music built to magical and unpredictable crescendos. A heady atmosphere of euphoria and sadness pervaded. If U2’s The Edge had wandered in the crowd would have sacrificially burnt him in a wicker man. Gone hints at such potency and will hopefully lead newcomers deeper into the catalogue. Just don’t try using their records to drift off to sleep….