The first strains of "The Flames Beyond the Cold Mountain," the opener off Mono's fourth album, You Are There, are mellifluous and lilting, enough to start calming my nerves, which are, at this point, frazzled and misfiring thanks to Southern California traffic. Lulled into a Zen-like peace by the lazy flow of traffic, the song is a million-megawatt jolt that has me gasping "Jesus Christ" as I suck my breath back in and hold on for the ride. I haven't been this floored by a record since I first heard Mogwai's Ten Rapid. Post rock? More like post-classical.
Remember, classical music hasn't always been "classical." When all the greats were composing, it was the popular music of the time, not a section cordoned off in the chain record stores with cryogenically sealed doors and a specialist staff of Julliard or Berklee students who didn't make the cut at the Philharmonic or the Pops. Keeping in mind, then, the idea of "classical" music as pop music is another way to think of Godspeed You Black Emperor and Mogwai and their other post-rock, loud/soft, wax/wane, crescendo/decrescendo cohorts.
And then there's Japan's Mono. Comparisons to these bands are inevitable -- their song structures are quite similar -- but that's where the similarities end. Mono runs away with the prize for intensity, power and heaviness in the vein of Beethoven, Orff and Mahler -- intensity produced by four musicians augmented by a string quartet and one killer producer (the infamous Steve Albini) that rivals the walls of sound generated by an orchestra.
You Are There makes my long trek to Los Angeles feel like I'm meandering blissfully, not stuck in a traffic jam -- transportation of an altogether different sort. It takes me through the depths of hell to the peaks of heaven, spiking through the whole human emotional gamut in the course of a few bars and some incredibly timed feedback. Pigeonholing Mono's sound seems a bit ridiculous -- it transcends genre -- but suffice it to say that Mono has upped the post-rock ante with You Are There.
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