The Tokyo, Japan based 4-piece Instrumental Rock band MONO was originally formed in 1999. Their unique approach of combining moving orchestral arrangements and shoegaze guitar noise is held in extremely high regard; so much so, that the band’s musicianship and the diverse musical palette has eclipsed the Rock genre and exists within its own realm. As British Musical Magazine NME once stated, “this is music for the Gods”. A particularly monumental live memory of the band was a special set of shows with a 23-piece orchestra in New York, Tokyo, London and Melbourne.
Their annual world tour consists of around 150 shows. The band has now visited over 59 countries (and counting) and proudly holds the title of being one of the most internationally successful bands in Japan. Both critics and fans of Rock music agree that MONO are one of the best live bands in existence.
After releasing 10 successful albums including a live album with an orchestra in New York, the band received the highly regarded award “The Marshall Hawkins Awards: Best Musical Score – Featurette” from the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema for their collaborative short film “Where We Begin” in 2015. The band was also nominated for “Ariel Award for Best Original Music Score” for the feature film “The 4th Company” which was released in 2016.
In 2018, the band welcomed a new drummer Dahm and began a new journey. This year, the band received a special invitation to be one of the headliners of London’s Meltdown Festival, personally requested by the 2018’s curator Robert Smith of The Cure, where the stage was shared with artists such as My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails, Mogwai and Deftones.
The band’s 20 year anniversary was welcomed in the following year. To commemorate this occasion, the 10th album “Nowhere Now Here” was released together with a world tour. The tour was over a year long, consisting of 4 special orchestra shows in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and London, and marked its successful end in March 2020.
Now, the band prepares for the new album, together once again with their longtime friend Steve Albini of Electrical Audio, which is planned to be released in 2021.
- Takaakira “Taka” Goto – lead guitar, glockenspiel
- Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu – rhythm guitar, glockenspiel
- Tamaki Kunishi – bass guitar, guitar, piano, glockenspiel
- Dahm Majuri Cipolla – drum kit (2018–present)
Formation and early years: 1999–2000
In January 1999, Tokyo native electric guitarist Takaakira “Taka” Goto began composing music and spent the remainder of the year searching for other musicians with which to form an instrumental rock band; eventually recruiting long-time friend and fellow electric guitarist Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu on rhythm guitar. By December 1999, Tamaki Kunishi and Yasunori Takada had joined Mono on bass guitar and drums, respectively. The band played their first show in late January 2000, at Club 251 in Setagaya, Tokyo. In May 2000, the band entered Rinky Dink Studio in Tokyo and recorded their first extended play with engineers Tetsuya Morioka and Toshiro Kai, which was later self-released in September 2000: a Japan-only release titled Hey, You on their own independent record label, Forty-4. The band spent the bulk of the year composing more music and performing at various houses around Tokyo, in the neighbourhoods of Setagaya, Shimokitazawa, and Shibuya. Mono also travelled to the United States to play a one-off show in November at the Mercury Lounge in New York City; a show which was later described by Paul Wheeler of rockofjapan.com as having a “big beautiful sound that […] naturally [expanded] through each song.”
Under the Pipal Tree: 2001
Following the release of the Hey, You extended play, Mono spent the next year playing shows throughout their native Japan, as well as playing several shows in New York City and Sweden. The band also made an appearance at the 2001 South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. Between performing in Japan, Mono recorded their first studio album, Under the Pipal Tree at Studio Take-1 and Forty-4 in Tokyo. The majority of the tracks were recorded live (a trend which the band would adopt for all subsequent studio albums) in one day, the recording session of which was funded by experimental American musician John Zorn, with the band handling production duties. The album featured two previously released tracks (from the Hey, You extended play), as well as six original compositions. The album was released worldwide through New York City record label Tzadik, owned and operated by John Zorn.
One Step More and You Die: 2002–2003
After the release of Under the Pipal Tree, the band spent the next year touring Japan and the United States, also visiting Germany and Taiwan in support of the album, as well as composing new material inspired by the tour. In June 2002, between shows in Japan, the band recorded their second studio album, One Step More and You Die at Little Bach and Sound City studios in Tokyo, with Mono again handling production duties. The album was released in Japan in October of that year on Japanese record label Music Mine Inc. The band spent most of 2003 touring in support of the album, returning to Japan, the United States, Sweden, and visiting Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, Hungary, the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom for the first time.
Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined: 2004
Mono’s next release was a collaboration with Japanese musician Aki Onda; whom the band met while touring New York in 2002. The band, Onda, and several notable members of the New York experimental music scene (including DJ Olive, Jackie-O Motherfucker, and Loren Connors) remixed One Step More and You Die. The album, titled New York Soundtracks, was released in February 2004 on Human Highway, Mono’s own record label, and a successor to Forty-4.
In January 2004, the band began a long partnership with Chicagoan recording engineer Steve Albini, recording their third studio album at Electrical Audio Engineering in Chicago, Illinois. The album, titled Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined was released in April 2004 on Human Highway in Japan, and on Rykodisk in Europe and Temporary Residence Limited in the United States later in the year. After the album’s release, the band embarked upon a year-long tour of America, Asia, and Europe.
You Are There: 2005–2007
The band also spent 2005 touring Asia, America, and Europe composing music, and eventually returning to Electrical Audio Engineering in February and September to record their fourth studio album with Steve Albini. The album, titled You Are There was released in Japan in March 2006 on Human Highway, and on Temporary Residence Limited in the United States and Europe. Mono also collaborated with Japanese musician World’s End Girlfriend in 2005, releasing a collaboration studio album in December of that year, on Human Highway, and with American band Pelican, releasing a split album with the band through Temporary Residence Limited in October 2005. In February 2007, American webzine Somewhere Cold voted their split with World’s End Girlfriend Palmless Paryaer / Mass Murder Refrain No. 7 on their 2006 Somewhere Cold Awards Hall of Fame.
Mono spent 2006 and 2007 touring Asia, America and Europe in support of You Are There. In October 2006, the band returned to Electrical Audio Engineering and recorded a four-track extended play, which was released in April 2007 as part of Temporary Residence Limited’s Travels in Constants series, titled The Phoenix Tree. In November 2006, the band released a two-track extended play titled Memorie dal Futuro through Vinyl Films, and also contributed a track to a Temporary Residence Limited compilation album, Thankful. In September 2007, the band released their first compilation album, compiling material from all previous extended plays, split albums, and compilations, titled Gone: A Collection of EPs 2000–2007, as well as the music documentary DVD, The Sky Remains the Same as Ever, documenting the worldwide tours of 2006 and 2007 and the recording of The Phoenix Tree extended play.
Hymn to the Immortal Wind: 2008–2011
In 2008, the band took a year-long break from touring, spending the time composing new music and playing a handful of shows throughout the year, including an appearance at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Somerset, England, curated by Explosions in the Sky in May. Mono returned to Electrical Audio Engineering in June and November 2008 to record their fifth studio album, Hymn to the Immortal Wind, which was later released in March 2009, and followed by a year-long tour of America and Eurasia. The band played a ten-year anniversary show at the Society for Ethical Culture Hall in New York, United States on 8 May 2009, accompanied by the 24-piece Wordless Music Orchestra. The performance was recorded and later released as both a live album and a DVD, named Holy Ground: NYC Live With The Wordless Music Orchestra, through Temporary Residence Limited in Europe and America, and Human Highway in Asia. The band then took another year-long break and went into “hibernation mode”, returning to Japan to work on songs for a new album.
For My Parents: 2012–2014
Mono spent early 2012 recording a new album at Waterfront Studios in Hudson, New York, with recording engineers Henry Hirsch, accompanied by the Wordless Music Orchestra. The album was mixed by Fred Weaver at his studio, Apocalypse the Apocalypse, in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. For My Parents was MONO’s first record in eight years not to be recorded by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago. For My Parents, was released on 4 September 2012, through Temporary Residence Limited. The band’s press release for For My Parents states “We hope that this album serves as a gift from child to parent. While everything else continues to change, this love remains a constant throughout time.”
The Last Dawn/Rays of Darkness: 2014–2016
Mono released a double album on 24 October 2014, two contrasting records: The Last Dawn, being a more traditional Mono record; and Rays of Darkness, some of their heaviest material, even more notable for the first use of vocals on The Hand That Holds The Truth. The two were released on Temporary Residence Limited in North American and Pelagic Records elsewhere.
Requiem for Hell: 2016–2019
Mono announced the forthcoming release of Requiem For Hell on 19 July 2016, their ninth studio album. It reintroduces strings to their sound. It was also their first full album under the newly formed label Pelagic Records. Prior to the full release of Requiem For Hell they did a split album with The Ocean (Transcendental) to commemorate this event. Later it was known that it was actually a sneak peek of the first two songs of their upcoming album. On December 9, 2017 they announced via their social media pages that Yasunori Takada (drum kit, glockenspiel, synthesizer), who has been a member since the start, will leave the band due to “personal reasons.” He was replaced by Dahm Majuri Cipolla beginning with the band’s live performance on August 9, 2018.
Starting in August 2018, they worked on their next project with Steve Albini at Electrical once again. On September 25, 2018, the new album was revealed to be called Nowhere Now Here, their first with Cipolla, it was released January 25, 2019.
Hymn to the Immortal Wind (10 Year Anniversary Edition):2019-present
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of MONO, and the 10th anniversary of Hymn to the Immortal Wind, Temporary Residence Ltd. released Hymn to the Immortal Wind – Anniversary Edition. Featuring remastered versions of the original.
Although Mono’s musical style has developed throughout their career, it has primarily been characterised by dynamic, guitar-based instrumental soundscapes, the majority of which are composed by lead guitarist Takaakira Goto, in an attempt to channel and express the emotions of joy and sorrow. The band’s style of music originally featured elements of minimalism and noise, and later developed to integrate more complex, orchestral arrangements and instrumentation. Mono’s music has been categorised as both contemporary classical and post-rock, but Goto has stated:
Music is communicating the incommunicable; that means a term like post-rock doesn’t mean much to us, as the music needs to transcend genre to be meaningful.— Takaakira Goto, Time Out Goto performing in 2007; the band provides an emotional live performance
Mono has toured worldwide several times. Their live show tends to feature intense and emotional playing by the band members, as well as using extreme dynamics (in crescendos as well as diminuendos) in their attempt to create an “unforgettable” live performance. When recording their music, the band has always played live in the studio and, from 2004’s Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined to 2009’s Hymn to the Immortal Wind, worked with Chicagoan recording engineer Steve Albini, whom they feel accurately captured a live band’s “raw emotion to [magnetic] tape.”
Mono has drawn influence from various musical and non-musical sources throughout their career. When the band first formed, their main influences were American experimental rock band Sonic Youth and Anglo–Irish shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine when making Under the Pipal Tree and One Step More and You Die. As the band broadened their musical tastes, starting with the album, Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined, they began to be influenced by music from sources such as German classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven, Italian film score composer Ennio Morricone, and later Polish minimalist composer Henryk Górecki, among others. Lead guitarist Takaakira Goto has also acknowledged Danish film director Lars von Trier (in particular the 1996 film, Breaking the Waves) as a major influence since the band’s formation, in terms of expressing the different depths and heights of emotion.
Instruments of the band (2007 at the Crocodile Cafe)
In terms of instrumentation, Mono is a four-piece instrumental rock band. Goto, the group’s lead guitarist, uses a 1966 Fender Jazzmaster through Boss, Danelectro, SiB, and Morley effects pedals, into a Fender Twin, a Marshall JCM 2000 head, and a Marshall cabinet for amplification. Yoda, the rhythm guitarist, uses a 1974 Fender Stratocaster through Boss, Tech 21 and Pro Co effects pedals, into a Fender Twin for amplification. Kunishi, the group’s bass guitarist, pianist and occasional guitarist uses a 1966 Gibson EB-3 through Boss, TC Electronic, and Tech 21 effects pedals, into an Ampeg B2-R head and a Sunn bass cabinet, as well as a Fender Rhodes, and a Fender Jazzmaster. Takada, the drummer, uses a four-piece 1970s Ludwig drum kit, with Zildjian, Sabian, and Paiste cymbals, as well as a Korg microKORG synthesizer.
As the band’s career has progressed, they have incorporated string sections on record, beginning with Under the Pipal Tree, which featured use of cello, continuing with One Step More and You Die and Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined which both featured string quartets, and You Are There, which featured a string quintet. On Hymn to the Immortal Wind, the band made use of a 28-piece chamber orchestra.
- Under the Pipal Tree (2001)
- One Step More and You Die (2002)
- You Are There (2006)
- Hymn to the Immortal Wind (2009)
- For My Parents (2012)
- The Last Dawn (2014)
- Rays of Darkness (2014)
- Requiem for Hell (2016)
- Nowhere Now Here (2019)
Split albums & EPs
- Scarlet Holliday
1.Scarlet Holliday 07:41 video
2.First Winter 04:48
On December 25, 2020, as a special Christmas gift, a two-song single “Scarlet Holliday”, featuring “First Winter”, was released exclusively via MONO’s Bandcamp, wishing everyone good health, happiness and good cheer in the new year. These songs were written with the idea of new hope for the new year since 2020 has become unforeseeably dark for many in the world.
released December 25, 2020
Written by Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto
Recorded by Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto at Studio Forty-4
Drums Recorded & Mixed by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio
Mixed & Mastered by Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto & Jeremy deVine
Artwork by Seiya Ogino (Ogino Design)
- Hey, You (2000)
- Memorie dal Futuro (2006)
- The Phoenix Tree (2007)
- Before The Past • Live From Electrical Audio (2019)
- New York Soundtracks (2004)
Singles and music videos
- Follow the Map (2012)
- Kanata (2013)
- Dream Odyssey (2014)
- Where We Begin (2015)
- Requiem For Hell (2017)
- The Sky Remains The Same As Ever (2007)
- Holy Ground: NYC Live With The Wordless Music Orchestra (2010)
MONO and the doomsday prophecy in “Nowhere Now Here”
MONO – Nowhere Now Here (2019)
Review of Gabriel Sacramento
In the review I wrote last year for The Nude Party’s debut album, I started the text by talking about how music serves as a megaphone for moods and climates and how it is possible, very easily, to express this through sound choices. Nowhere Now Here, the new album by instrumental group MONO, makes me marvel at this once again. If you’re looking for a track to the end of the world, tune in to the new MONO record. They know what to say without using letters.
The Japanese group reaches the tenth record of their career. They practically became experts in a kind of dark rock, with an air of shoegaze, which maintains deep ties with a solemn orchestral streak. Mid-career, they established a partnership with none other than Steve Albini, who recovered for this new job. Albini, who recently appeared on Ty Segall and The Breeders records, lends his skills to make the Japanese record even more original and poignant.
The band is formed by Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto on guitar, Tamaki on bass / piano, Yoda on the other guitar and Dahm, drums. The group maintains a consistent strength and is often supported by an absurd amount of overdubs and strings. In terms of mixing, Albini is known for knowing how to capture noises like few and for his extensive work with underground rock bands in the 90s. However, the highlight of his work on this album is just the opposite: how he captures clean, separate instruments , with a strong sense of isolation, loneliness and melancholy. The timbres speak a lot – much more than letters would, perhaps.
The production knows how to build climates very well, with slow and slow development, which follows a cumulative logic of arrangements, that is, each section adds something to the previous one and gives more outline to the main theme. However, the production also knows how to let the songs breathe, with a lot of focus on isolated guitar strumming and the interaction between competing melodies. Another strategy that they use a lot is one that resembles the band Red: abrupt changes in the dynamics of the track, whether from something lighter to a heavier section, like the opposite too.
The band also knows how to dynamize the approach, which is necessary, since the sound is very hermetic. In some tracks, they start out slow and sad and resolve cathartically, with a mass of reverb, noise and other effects in the cauldron; in others, they simply maintain a monocordic dynamic, which does not rise and frustrates the listener’s expectations. They know how to be verbose, as in the ten minutes of the title track, and super concise in what they have to say, as in “Funeral Song”.
Even with the good choices of the production to combat sameness, the album ends up falling a bit in this and being exhausting, mainly due to its long duration. It is an hour of demanding and difficult music, with a strongly emphasized atmosphere, which does not give up. Therefore, some listeners will be naturally uncomfortable. To avoid this, they could have focused on the format of a few songs from the latest albums.
It is worth highlighting the performances: Taka and Yoda’s guitars build the melodic notion and are the main actors of the disc, giving voice to the melancholic bias; but the highlight is drummer Dahm. Its lines always appear cutting the mood, contrasting well with what the guitars dictate and the whole mass of strings that fill the skies of the album. His drumsticks add movement and energy to almost morbid and dragged passages, brilliantly. However, the battery also comes with the function of dirtying the spectrum and generating noise confusion, which Dahm also does very well.
If the end of the world had a playlist, it would be Nowhere Now Here. The record goes from beginning to end with a sad, as if prophetic tone, in a tone of foreboding, announcing outcomes and bad events. Or would they be good? Anyway, a good record to listen to and reflect on.
Stupendous Japanese band with a dark style, riffs played with mastery with a structure and complex arrangements very well rooted in classical music.
The performance with The Wordless Orchestra – Silent Flight, Sleeping Dawn (Holy Ground: NYC) Live is fantastic, a masterpiece for lovers of good music.
We look forward to your presentation here in southern Brazil, cheers and thanks for the delight of your melodies.