Pilgrimage of the Soul is the 11th studio album in the 22-year career of Japanese experimental rock legends MONO, set for release on 17th September on Pelagic Records. The band began in Japan at the end of the 20th Century as a young quartet equally inspired by the pioneers of moody experimental rock (My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai) and iconic Classical composers (Beethoven, Morricone) who came before them.
They have evolved into one of the most inspiring and influential experimental rock bands in their own right. It is only fitting that their evolution has come at the glacial, methodical pace that their patient music demands. MONO is a band that puts serious value in nuance, and offers significant rewards for the wait.
Recorded and mixed – cautiously, anxiously, yet optimistically – during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020, with one of the band’s longtime partners, Steve Albini, Pilgrimage of the Soul is aptly named as it not only represents the peaks and valleys where MONO are now as they enter their third decade, but also charts their long, steady journey to this time and place.
Continuing the subtle but profound creative progression in the MONO canon that began with Nowhere Now Here (2019), Pilgrimage of the Soul is the most dynamic MONO album to date (and that’s saying a lot!).
But where MONO’s foundation was built on the well-established interplay of whisper quiet and devastatingly loud, Pilgrimage of the Soul crafts its magic with mesmerising new electronic instrumentation and textures, and – perhaps most notably – faster tempos that are clearly influenced by disco and techno.
Having said that, the first track Riptide is the classic example of contrast – 90seconds of soft, gently tinkling piano, mixed quite low down; being then overtaken by a relentlessly monochromatic and meaty riff, staccato drum bursts and whining synths. Imperfect Things is different in that although it again starts off delicately, it builds organically with successive layers of electronica coming into play, swirling and spiralling around like Jean Michelle Jarre before concluding.
Heaven In A Wild Flower is where the classical influences shine – in the nicest possible way I could easily fall asleep within the seven minutes of this track, lulled by the pastoral tranquility of it all. Keys and strings are the main elements at play here, quite timeless, I love it! The effect is magnified with the following To See A World, by which I mean you sense the same style of classical composition as the former but with a wider, more orchestral pallet of instruments creating a dense, quite rocky sound. The title is quite apt, this track distils the world of MONO in four minutes flat!
Innocence, and the following track The Auguries continue a broadly similar path, both again patient compositions in which layers are gradually added before fading away…
Which rings us to the album’s Magnum Opus, the twelve and a half minutes of Hold Infinity In The Palm Of Your Hand. This has a slower more experimental feel to it, blending various synth / electronic streams within what feels again like a strongly structured composition. Repetitive – yes, nearly boring – yes; but hypnotic – most certainly! The album is closed by the rather wonderfully named And Eternity In An Hour, which is the most archly classical track on here, synths and strings weaving another slice of tranquil contemplation, driven and underpinned by the simplest repetition of five piano notes. You are sort of praying that it isn’t “interfered with” by a heavier interruption and, almost surprisingly, on this occasion the simplicity wins through. Luscious!
It all combines to provide the most unexpected MONO album to date – complete with a number of musical surprises and as awash in compositional splendour as anything this band has ever done.