March 4, 2022 MONO – Scarlet Holliday (EP Review)
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the musical masterminds in Japan’s MONO felt compelled to offer a special gift of sonic serenity to their fans for the 2020 holiday season. Released digitally, “Scarlet Holliday” and “First Winter” were intended to stoke a flame of hope for the coming year. Of course, as we know now, the virus had its own plans and many listeners would be forced to struggle through another year of uncertainty.
Now, as the past two years begin to fade to a bad memory, MONO is gearing up for a North American tour, beginning in Minneapolis, in April. So, ever the optimists, the quartet aims to provide a second healing dose of light to listeners across the globe, giving their 2020 material a second chance at life with the Scarlet Holliday EP, which arrives on Friday, March 4, 2022, thanks to Temporary Residence Ltd.
Originally recorded two years ago by long-time collaborator Steve Albini (Pixies, Nirvana), the tracks are newly mixed by John McEntire (Stereolab, Modest Mouse) and mastered by Bob Weston (Sebadoh, Nirvana). In a prayer for a better 2022, the band has reworked and expanded what has become the Scarlet Holliday EP into three songs, with the addition of the brand new offering “Epilogue”. Consequently, what was a digital-only release is now being offered on limited-edition 10” vinyl, which is set to be released this summer while all digital formats arrive on March 4th.
“These songs were written with the idea of new hope for the new year since this time has become unforeseeably dark for many in the world,” explains the band—Guitarists Takaakira “Taka” Goto and Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu, Bassist Tamaki Kunishi, and Drummer Dahm Majuri Cipolla. A fitting statement for a three-song collection that intends to be the ray of sunshine on a gray day.
And so, with great expectations, they begin with the nearly eight-minute-long “Scarlet Holliday,” the sonic dawning of a new day. Here, Goto and his bandmates guide us through a growing tension, a swirling miasma of frustration that showers its cinematic feels across our skin like rain. There are, of course, moments where we are allowed the respite of gazing up at the reliable stars and refocusing ourselves, finding our center amid the chaos.
Spoken Word emanates from the frenzy, adding to the din that is meant to remind us of the uncertain past, which beautifully contrasts with the delicacy of “First Winter.” As though gazing out at the crest of the new-fallen snow, this bright January morning is cleansing, reinvigorating; the solace that is needed to start a new year with a renewed sense of purpose. It is the lone stag prancing through the frozen forest toward the warmth of new possibilities and the promise that is given in “Epilogue.” With some vocal harmonizing adding to the layers of sound, the track closes out the collection with hints of the coming of spring, and the promise of new beginnings. For us, as well as the lonely stag.
But nothing here is committed to ink. The beauty of MONO’s art is that every listener is apt to walk away with their own interpretation of the material, having authored their own story of loss and light. Thus, each of our prose is co-written by MONO, who take passionate joy in helping their fans to achieve new emotional heights. This symbiosis between artist and patron has become a key piece of the Japanese quartet’s livelihood for the past 23 years, and what we have come to expect from these pioneers.
In this, Scarlet Holliday is merely a section of the latest chapter in the exceptional group’s history, one that shows their continued commitment to art without boundaries. For this, Cryptic Rock gives MONO’s latest 4.5 out of 5 stars.