The turn of the 21st century found post-rock entering its post-Mogwai phase, and a number of likeminded souls found themselves in sway to the quiet-loud-quiet (or loud-quiet-loud) muse. Japan's Mono were no exception, and they do an exceedingly exemplary and dynamic version of it. Although some may find it formulaic, the template is laid out on their debut, Under the Pipal Tree, bizarrely issued on John Zorn's Tzadik imprint, a label known more for skirting the far fringe of free jazz than for indulging in mono-lithic instrumental rock. Although Mono would go on to craft more nuanced, classical-influenced work, especially on their collaboration with World's End Girlfriend, the first track here is all the listener needs to know about Mono's modus operandi. "Karelia (Opus 2)" begins with a slow-build swell of tentative yet strident delayed guitar, gathering momentum with the addition of galloping drums and layer upon layer of guitar squall to the point that the listener believes it can't possibly get any louder -- and then, of course, it does. Then everything suddenly drops out into a brief quiet passage, so soft indeed that again the listener is beguiled into reaching for the volume control, whereupon a lone bended guitar note wails repeatedly, eliciting spine-tingling chills like the nearby howl of a werewolf, and the whole band erupts once more into a furious maelstrom of guitar distortion, sub-rumbling bass, drums like an avalanche, and cymbals like crashing tidal waves. And if this is formulaic, it in no way diminishes the exalted catharsis it brings to the involved listener, and it has worked for many others, especially the string-driven Canadians like Godspeed You Black Emperor! and A Silver Mt. Zion (Mono don't forget to add a bit of cello here and there), as well as dour Texans Explosions in the Sky with their arsenal of impossibly gnarled and intertwined guitars. While all of these artists would go on to hone their own distinctive takes on the formula, here you can find the genesis of this particular brand of post-rock, a much-maligned categorization that nevertheless encapsulates a definitive movement in the rock canon.
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