Japanese dreamers MONO create surprising, soaring new sojourn on great ‘Pilgrimage of the Soul’

Folks like me like to use the word “cinematic” to describe music with a huge scope and feel, and that’s not a major issue because if the portrayal fits closely enough, it’s a pretty good descriptor. But the idea is that the music you’re hearing makes you escape to another place, taking a journey into a new world in your own head because you’re so caught up, you can’t help yourself.

Japanese instrumental power MONO has been creating that very experience for the past couple decades, and now they’re delivering their 11th record “Pilgrimage of the Soul,” one of the most daring of their entire catalog. This is the point where I tell you I once saw MONO play a goddamn classroom at Carnegie Mellon University, and they absolutely destroyed the place. Despite the band carving out a following and style, they are not glued to that, and this record is a perfect example. Yes, there are sweeping highs and lows, of course there is plenty of soft-loud on this album, but the eight songs on this collection show a different side to the band—Takaakira “Taka” Goto (guitar), Yoda (guitar), Dahm (drums), and Tamaki (bass, piano). The music rollicks you more than usual, some of the emotion is even more tender than you might expect, and from start to finish, this takes you on that aforementioned cinematic ride that leaves you exhilarated and full of life.

“Riptide” gets things started, first basking in reflective waters before ripping open and soaring in a more propulsive manner than we’ve come to expect from this band. That makes your heart surge in the best way as gorgeous, gazey guitar drizzle, the melodies catapult, and the band drubs before retreating into the clouds. “Imperfect Things” basks in noise pockets and dripping guitars as the dreamy haze takes hold of you and changes your psyche. The bass trudges as the drums come to life, fully awakening as the guitars take off, abrasive sounds erupt, and everything keeps spiraling before fading away. “Heaven in a Wild Flower” slowly blossoms, setting up its world as we wait with anticipation. Moody yet calm, the music gets eerie, horns rise, and the horizon stretches, lathering with thick strings and heavy lather that helps you soak in this new, imagination-driven world. “To See a World” has guitar hitting the gas and the strings rising behind that, aching as the emotion thickens. The playing jolts and causes you to sit straight up as rich, gushing playing collects, and chimes ring brightly. The playing keeps upping the ante, delivering wave upon crashing wave until you’re buried beneath.

“Innocence” has sweeping melodies that practically lift you off the ground, guitars creating new paths, and a wondrous aura that aims to capture you and bring calm. You can feel the intensity build, even when the band is holding back, and then beams rip through the clouds, snaking through the winds before the tempo calms, and the music dissolves into the air. “The Auguries” plods ominously as the strings increase, and you can feel your blood rhythmically coursing through your veins. The power and volume gradually lift, the bass flexes its muscles, and the track swells up and explodes into a mist. “Hold Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand” is the longest cut, running 12:22 and starting the keys pumping, chimes sounding, and noise reverberating. The playing feels gentle for stretches before the storm gusts, and the emotion caterwauls, bringing the rush to a new level. A gigantic high is hit, your body is cajoled, and the cut ends with your senses being smashed. “And Eternity in an Hour” is the closer, starting the keys drizzling and strings gathering, delicate and impassioned as the playing rises. Keys splash as the ambiance increases, darkening skies as your blood settles, and you wake from your dream.

MONO continue to enthrall and surprise on “Pilgrimage of the Soul,” their enchanting 11th record, a collection that contains much of the band’s usual DNA but also delivers unforeseen colors and tastes. Feeling your insides activate and your mind blast off with the visions created with this album makes for a MONO adventure that’s a little different from the ones that preceded it, proving they still have surprises up their sleeves. This music is perfect for lifting your spirits, taking a trip, or just losing yourself in a story, preferably the one playing out in your head.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/monoofjapan

To buy the album, go here: https://www.temporaryresidence.com/collections/albums/products/trr364

For more on the label, go here: https://www.temporaryresidence.com/