Secret Machines are widely considered New York City's best live band, a Mogwai-meets-Pink Floyd Texas tornado of noisy bliss. But last year, at a Manhattan club that gets really crowded with just 100 people inside, an unassuming Japanese noise band stunned the audience by unfurling a symphonic assault that was stormier and louder than anything that Secret Machines played that same night.
Point is, if you're going to see Mono, you might want to bring earplugs.
Mono are a relentless band. Their music is relentlessly sad and relentlessly hopeful and relentlessly furious and relentlessly celebratory. Their new Steve Albini-produced album, Walking Cloud and Dead Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined, alternates from peaceful melodies to turbulent tantrums, sounding something like Kinski reinterpreting Rachmaninoff. There's no singing or screaming, no words at all, in fact, but the emotions seem pretty clear.
Unlike many other noise bands, Mono aren't really a psychedelic band. They don't sound like they want to transport you to some other world. There's enough crazy shit to deal with in this one, they believe. Their music is grounded in brutal reality, a reminder that there's nothing more ridiculous and awful and surprising and wondrous as real life, real tragedy, and real triumph.
Walking Cloud was inspired by the story of the Japanese girl who folded a thousand paper cranes while battling leukemia after Hiroshima was bombed. And haunting songs like "Halcyon (Beautiful Days)" and "The Sky Remains the Same as Ever" are orchestral reminders of a nation's great pain and even greater resilience.
But despite all this heaviness, Mono are fucking fun, too. You can see this firsthand when you watch them caress and then pound their instruments as their floppy hair bounces sweat all over. They know they're playing absurdly hard and fast and that just makes them want to play harder and faster.