MONO. (October 24, 2012)

In some alternate universe, where an instrumental post-rock band’s greatness is measured by how many glockenspiel players they have, MONO, with four, reigns supreme.

Here, of course, that’s not how it works. Still, MONO’s bombast, their frantic guitar strum-and-sustain, their sense of melody, all of which would mean nothing without quiet, glockenspiel-friendly moments (there’s always one around the corner) to serve as a counterbalance, fare well against other post-shoegaze, My Bloody Valentine-worshipping acts. Since the late 1990s, MONO, a Japanese quartet, has been consistent, touring behind orchestral-rock studio albums, several EPs, two DVDs and a live album, 2010’s Holy Ground, recorded live in New York City with the Wordless Music Orchestra. Earlier this year, MONO released For My Parents, their sixth studio album, and the first in nearly a decade not to be recorded by Steve Albini, the former Big Black member and sonic guru behind major records by Nirvana, Slint and the Pixies.


Guitarist Takaakira Goto, by e-mail, said their decision not to use Albini was meant to knock the group out of its comfort zone. “Steve Albini has been so wonderful to work with for many albums and we developed a great respect and trust for him over the years,” Goto wrote. “For this new album, we wanted to challenge ourselves by seeking out a new producer. Working with Henry Hirsch in his gorgeous studio was a pleasure and we are happy with what the album became.”

If the move worked, it’s not necessarily apparent on the surface of For My Parents, which faithfully follows 2009’s Hymn to the Immortal Wind's pacing. You can imagine yourself listening to either record while playing a first-person video game with the sound turned down (or, for that matter, watching an anime, nature or slo-mo extreme-sports flick). “Legend,” the 11-plus-minute, prelude-like opener — maybe it seems prelude-like because it’s the first track — downshifts sensibly into hushed-dynamic territory halfway through, before building up (as expected) to a finale/ending, in this case an epic, ascending major scale that rises and rises, even as you hope it’ll switch directions. For My Parents plays out like a meditation on tension and release. No MONO song, for that matter, would be complete without a crescendo or two; “Nostalgia” has three crescendos, “Dream Odyssey” and “Unseen Harbor” two each. (The two crescendos in “A Quiet Place (Together We Go),” as you’d expect, are relatively muted.)

Goto said the material for a MONO record has to be completely finished before the band enters a studio. “If we’re working with an orchestra,” he wrote, “we have to complete the scores and send to the set players in advance as well. This is mostly due to time constraints. We travel overseas to record so there is not much flexibility in our recording schedule. It helps to be prepared as much as possible.” Once they finish writing the songs in Tokyo, Goto said, the band practices during the months leading up to the recording date. The producer’s role, then, is to try to flesh out what they sound like in a live setting, “someone who helps us maintain the natural quality of the songs.”

MONO songs run anywhere from five to 15 minutes long. From a compositional standpoint, you’d think there’s something about extended song forms that appeals to Goto, MONO’s primary writer, but he suggests not. “This is kind of unintentional,” Goto wrote. “Somehow our songs tend [to] unfold this way during the writing process. During songwriting, there (hopefully) comes a point in which the song almost begins to write itself. The melody knows where it wants to go, where it should go. And for the past few albums, our songs take longer to build up and reach a climax. However, we are still open to all time spans and have recently been experimenting with smaller pieces as well.”

The group also felt it was time to honor the much-overlooked parent/child relationship on this particular record. “This album was something that needed to be written,” Goto said, “and it was something we wanted to do while we still had the chance.” The story behind For My Parents, Goto wrote, is this: “We all eventually lose the thing that made us. It's the way of nature. I was inspired by the idea of a young boy spending a lifetime growing out of his childish ways, and learning how to embrace his parents as they became elderly and frail. After years of exploring, searching ourselves, and composing pieces, we found ourselves with more questions than answers. When we could not find these answers in the outside world, we were bound to turn inward. And so we went back to our roots. What cannot be explained in words to parents, we hope can be captured by this album.”

If rock terms fail to provide a lexicon for discussing MONO, you can always look to classical music and film for appropriate models. They do.

“Beethoven, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Henryk Górecki are some of our favorite composers,” Goto wrote. “We love cinema, particularly films that are poetic, epic, but still somehow small. Something that helps us understand the grand scheme of the universe. We love films that have a balance of beautiful artistry, intense emotion, and powerful storytelling.”

MONO, w/ Chris Brokaw (from Codeine). Oct. 26, 10 p.m., $15, The Space, 295 Treadwell St., Hamden, (203) 288-6400,