A string quartet plays quietly and what sounds like faraway waves crashing adds to the calm at the beginning of Mono's staggering slow burn of a new album. Then it's just silence that unfolds into a symphony of sorrow as the 11-minute opening song, "16.12," rocks you slowly back and forth like you're a beloved baby who needs to rest. But halfway into the song, the Japanese noise band's peaceful rock turns into something more like Rachmaninoff. That is, if some mad genius reimagined one of the composer's piano concertos at four times the speed and volume. There are no words on this record, but ear-shattering crescendos provide all the emotion and meaning necessary.
So much of this Steve Albini-produced album, which resembles Kinski playing with an orchestra, is relentlessly bleak music, songs for people who are too sad and broken down to even cry. And yet, there seems to be sunshine in every graceful melody. "Mere Your Pathetique Light" is part Brian Wilson and part Béla Bartók, evoking images of doves flying and dogs playing and families huddling together for warmth, knowing that together they can make it through the night.
The album was inspired by the famous tale of a Japanese girl who folds a thousand paper cranes while fighting leukemia in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. And the message of hypnotic songs like "Halcyon (Beautiful Days)" and "A Thousand Paper Cranes" is obvious: Hope and triumph emerge from the world's darkest tragedies. Even the album's darkest-sounding song, the funereal "The Sky Remains the Same as Ever," packs a defiant flourish into its two-and-a-half minutes. This is the type of music that makes people want to rescue other people.
The best is at the beginning. After listening to the album all the way through once, you might want to go back to the first track. It's only then that you fully realize how the combination of soft/loud and peaceful/belligerent and calm/ aggressive sets the tone for everything else after. Know this, it seems like Mono are saying: "You can blacken the sky and take away people's loved ones and alter history forever and make a nation spend years digging itself out. Just don't expect anybody to go quietly." And then, as proof, Mono bring it even faster and louder than they need to make their point.