Music as an artform is meant to inspire, to make each listener feel something as they take a journey outside of or within themselves. MONO, Japanese titans of Experimental Rock, have been doing just this for the past two decades and counting. And on their latest release, Pilgrimage of the Soul, they intend to guide listeners through the everyday magic of the natural world in which we live. The album arrives on Friday, September 17, 2021 via Temporary Residence Limited.
While the band’s last offering, 2019’s Nowhere Now Here, portrayed the conflict between darkness and light, Pilgrimage of the Soul turns toward the healing rays of the sun for inspiration, exploring that which can be felt with our own hands. It’s a comforting concept, one that is designed to wrestle the anxiety of our troubled times from our minds—at least for its duration.
Making powerful instrumental music since 1999, MONO—Guitarist Takaakira “Taka” Goto, Rhythm Guitarist Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu, Bassist Tamaki Kunishi, and Drummer Dahm Majuri Cipolla—is well-schooled in relaying lush landscapes and vast journeys through their music. Their 2001 debut Under the Pipal Tree, 2009’s Hymn to the Immortal Wind, and 2014’s Rays of Darkness all serve as irrefutable evidence of this fact.
It has been said that MONO heavily values nuance within their work, offering rewards for those who are willing to wait. This is no different on their 11th studio album, in which the band remains true to form—in that, Pilgrimage of the Soul is bare of vocals, instead focusing on the musicians’ abilities to relay a galaxy of emotion through their instruments. Recorded and mixed by the legendary Steve Albini (Pixies, Nirvana) in 2020 throughout the height of the global pandemic, the LP’s eight tracks refuse to revel in the misery of the past 18 months. Counter to this, MONO chooses to mark their 22nd year by reaching for something magical that is always within plain sight: nature.
Pilgrimage of the Soul is also a bit surprising in its musical approach, one that sees the group playing with new textures, as well as electronic instrumentation, all as they gravitate toward their most fragile nuances, abandoning anything harsh for a field of gossamer tones. Indicative of their ongoing evolution, the collection is an exercise in finding joy for those things that no virus can take away.
One of the album’s most tumultuous tracks serves as its opener: “Riptide.” A bridge between their last recorded work and now, its cyclic melody is striking, trapping us in the ebb and flow of a violent sea that can give and take with the tides. This is the duality of the natural world: what is stunning can also be deadly. Thankfully, the storm clouds do part and a delicate breeze tickles our necks as MONO silently speaks of “Imperfect Things.” It is with reverence that they explore the power of imperfection—how flaws can be assets and embracing this idea can open your eyes to new possibilities.
This awe for everything around us is a repeated theme throughout Pilgrimage of the Soul. From the childlike wonder of “Heaven in a Wild Flower,” to the warring emotions of that same child as they attempt to navigate our enormously foreboding landscape in “Innocence,” there are often moments where the LP feels like a majestic time-lapse capture. In this, MONO’s observations unfold like the petals of a blooming rose as they explore the twinkle in the eye of an observer (“To See a World”), the yin and yang of co-existing with nature (“The Auguries”), and so much more.
But before they can end with the silky grace of “And Eternity in an Hour,” they delve into “Hold Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand.” A scrumptious dose of Vitamin D in musical form, it is a summertime stroll beside the lake, the sun glinting off every dragonfly’s wings. It is, too, the infinite possibilities of life encapsulated in one nourishing afternoon alone in nature as each element welcomes you—from the incessant buzzing of a fuzzy little bee to the rays that slice a clear path through the cricket-filled grasses
In fact, “Hold Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand” encapsulates the entire aesthetic of Pilgrimage of the Soul: an album that sees MONO paying their most impassioned respects to Mother Nature and our bountiful planet. From the tumultuous sea to the gossamer petals of a wildflower, the quartet use their talents to paint a picture of the fairy magic that exists all around us. So if you’ve ever stared in wonder at the Northern Lights or felt moved by an image of a polar bear cub, the LP is an emotionally moving reflection of the endless magnificence of Mother Earth. Likely the most stunning album that you will hear in 2021, Cryptic Rock is moved to give MONO’s latest 5 of 5 stars.