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Stream: Mono – “The Last Dawn”

The most difficult part about writing anything about a post-rock band is that each song is such a journey, and the albums seem to be massive offerings. It’s more about the journey than it is about the little pieces that make them up. Mono, throughout “The Last Dawn” manages to weave together extended sections of tranquility with blasts of euphoric noise. The slow unfolding of each track (as is usually the case) relies on short repetitive melodies that are built up in every way possible. This, of course, is not exactly out of the ordinary. Post-rock tends toward the slow-burn, slowly blending in element after element until the full fabric is complete. It’s a lot easier said than done.

There are many moments on “The Last Dawn” that sound close to Explosions in the Sky’s treatment of guitar, with open string voiced chord extensions are carefully articulated. Mono makes extensive use of a piano as a complement to the quieter guitar parts.

What it all really boils down to is a series of beautiful moments. Specifically, the moments of martial drumbeats and roaring guitars strummed wildly. After so much waiting and placidity, once the album really opens up, and it does so at only a few key moments (which isn’t to say that it should happen more often. On the contrary, the pacing is maybe the most important thing to listen to here), it’s something that gives the listener pause. Those moments are made all the more explosive and awe inspiring in that Mono has made you wait for them. As much as “The Last Dawn” is a collection of songs, it really is more about the journey across the entire album.

And the journey doesn’t end with “The Last Dawn,” the album was recorded simultaneously with their other new release “Rays of Darkness.” The albums are counterparts, but aren’t to be thought of as the same entity. “Rays of Darkness” stands in near opposition to the hopeful, sometimes joyous nature of “The Last Dawn.” Both of these albums are currently available on LP and CD through Temporary Residence Ltd.

Album Review: Merzbow – “Takahe Collage” Part 3

Merzbow - "Takahe Collage"
Merzbow – “Takahe Collage”

Grand Owl Habitat

This third and final installment of posts about Merzbow’s “Takahe Collage” focuses on the closing track, the mere 12 minute “Grand Owl Habitat.”

Probably the least active and cluttered of the album, “Grand Owl Habitat” takes a clearly sectionalized approach that even may vaguely (in some ways) resemble ABA form. Or, if it can’t quite be thought of as ABA form (and really it can’t, but hear me out) there is at the very least elements that appear and disappear at intervals making it sound as if the spaces without the pitched, more focused sounds form a point of recurring repose against spaces that contain those sounds and therefore stand as a contrast.

Just as with the previous tracks there is introductory material here as the underlying beat is generated. The first section of the song, that which lacks the presence of pitch material for the most part, continues for the first minute. Following that is the entrance of some of the erratic pitch material and sound envelope manipulations.

The main thing, as far as this song is concerned, is that each time the more focused, pitched sounds enter they do so with an increased intensity with each recurrence. Meanwhile the sections of the song that alternate with these increasingly active sounds remain fixed. The stasis is fixed in sound and in tempo. No alterations whatsoever are made to the initial underlying beat that is generated at the beginning of the track.

From 2:06 to about 2:18 there is a drastic shift in texture that marks a new section, where everything is stripped away, save for the underlying structure. We have seen this many times before in the previous tracks, where there is a frequent stripping away and subsequent re-building of material to create motion through the song from beginning to end. There are even some interesting rhythmic moments in “Grand Owl Habitat” that can be heard when a lot of that material is stripped away. For example, at about the 6:40 mark there is a sort of polyrhythmic effect going on with two of the layers just before a screeching sound of a free-jazz saxophone bleat begins to dominate the texture. That sound, as it happens, will remain throughout the remainder of the track.

What I think may be most notable, other than the drastic ebbs in texture through this track, is the way that Merzbow manages to bring the piece to a close. As a composer it is absolutely crucial for one to know their compositional language inside and out, for that is how you learn to phrase your material and, more importantly, how to begin and end a piece. Essentially, when the material that you are using is created via a hierarchy that doesn’t included strictly pitched material, how does one go about cadencing, or closing the piece?

The way that Merzbow answers that question here appears at the 10:52 mark where suddenly that underlying rhythm is taken away. In an instant only the focused, more or less pitched material is left and seems to float above the surface. But without that underlying structure it is only a matter of time before they are not able to sustain themselves anymore and about a minute later they begin to fade out. This, in my opinion, makes for a truly satisfying end to not only this track, but to the entire album.

Album Review: Merzbow – “Takahe Collage” Part 2

Merzbow - "Takahe Collage"
Merzbow – “Takahe Collage”


The second track from Merzbow’s “Takahe Collage”,”Tendeko,” is a bit different in its plan than the album opener. The titular song works really well as an introduction as there is quite a bit to grab on to. This track, however, is a bit more stable and fixed. That is not to say that there certainly aren’t some exceedingly interesting elements throughout.

Just as with the previous track we have some introductory material that lasts for about the first 20 seconds. The steady white noise backdrop is introduced and about another 20 seconds after that the sound spectrum begins to widen, and once again Merzbow is making use of a low pulsation, though this time around it is not quite as prominent. Pitch material also doesn’t seem to be playing quite as important a role in “Tendeko.” We are given what I would refer to as “open” and “closed” sounds.

By using the terms “open” and “closed” I’m referring to the overall shape of the soundwaves where sounds that I would consider to be “open” would be those that have more frequencies appearing at the outer edges of the spectrum (highs and lows but no middle) whereas closed sounds would have frequencies more clustered toward the middle of the sound spectrum. These sounds could be produced using something as simple as a bandpass filter, or a guitar wah pedal.

There is a much higher degree of stasis throughout “Tendeko,” and it doesn’t initially appear to be broken into large sections. There are occasions where thin, high pitched sounds will suddenly erupt from the stasis, while there are other times (around 9:50, for example) where regular beats develop and remain and become significant. This part in the track is alive with variation, Akita is heard to be clearly playing with beats and at the 11:30 mark seems to turn the entire track around on itself. The layer of stasis is stripped away, but not in the same way that it was in the opening track. This is a more gradual process, introducing new sounds rather than cutting everything away at once.

At about the 7:35 mark a quick thinning of the texture allows a brief descending arpeggiated sound to come toppling down, before it is swallowed up by the deep sea of distortion that remains underneath the entire song as a sort of support structure. When a sine wave is introduce at around 13:30 it leaps across frequencies, slicing through the ground layer from top to bottom and becoming a prominent element for a large duration.

Something resembling a vintage synth sound enters ever so briefly during a period where the percussive sounds are made more obvious with more crisp attacks rather than simple pulsations. That synth sound remains as a high pitched rapid rhythm and all that is beneath it is stripped away until we are left only with it and the percussive attacks. Eventually the rapid fire high register rhythm flatlines before it begins bouncing across several octaves, the percussive sounds disappearing suddenly with siren type sounds that come from below.

Standing in significant contrast to that of “Takahe Collage,” “Tendeko” exercises a greater use of stasis and shifting levels of textural density. Larger sections of the piece are less apparent in this track than its predecessor, though the latter half introduces a significant number of changes in sound, though not each introduced as parts of what I would think to call new sections. Rather it seems as though the stasis of the first half is drastically contrasted in the 2nd half with increasingly wild sonic gesticulations. There clearly is a different approach to this song, and the way that the sounds are organized and paced throughout the track are evidence of that.

The third and final part in this series will appear tomorrow and discusses the closing track on the album, “Grand Owl Habitat.”