If post-rock is essentially soundtrack music – and I’d argue that a) it most definitely is, and that b) that’s no insult to the form at all – then Mono are the sine qua non of the aesthetic, an exemplar and boundary condition at once.
The unasked question in that definition is “a soundtrack for which film?” I’m no student of cinema, but it takes little imagination while listening to Mono’s latest album (or any of their older stuff, for that matter) for me to see the grainy nostalgia and herky-jerky newsreel antics of the pre-digital past unspooling in front of your mind’s eye: flags, marches and monuments; the shuddering flanks of a steam train, glimpsed through smoke and top-hats; the muted pomp and sepia ceremony of empire, back before empire became a dirty name for a game whose popularity still hasn’t waned among its foremost players. There is yearning for a poorly remembered past here, but it’s bitter-sweet, state-funereal – a lament for the pastoral lost, while the mountains breathe snow down the back of your neck. (Or, for those frustrated by my attempts at poesy: it’s like Explosions In The Sky, but soft where they are brittle, and blurred where they are bright and hard of edge.)
This is an interesting example of projection, of course: Mono, being Japanese, probably have very different sources in mind (if they have any at all) than my own interminglings of interwar Pathe footage and the pinched faces of poverty that peer out from civil planning textbooks. But that’s the beauty of instrumental music: the foreground is left clear, so you might project your own narrative onto the grainy yet shimmering surface of the soundfield; that I find myself doing a sort of steampunkish bricolage says more about the cultural flotsam in my head at the current time than any sincere effort of Mono’s, or so I very much suspect. That said, there’s probably room for someone more steeped in Japanese culture than myself to draw out the latent similarities with Britain: I feel safe enough in suggesting that they have a lingering nostalgic conservatism in common, not to mention a troubled relationship with their imperial pasts, and that the stately melancholy of Mono’s music speaks to that complex of emotion, albeit without words.
So perhaps that’s the true magic of post-rock done right: all the affect, none of the narrative. Texture, emotion, motion, space, time… Mono sculpt these abstracts into mountainous landscapes of glacial beauty, and stubbornly refuse to litter them with anything so transient and hollow as language. ‘For My Parents‘ has no killer riffs, clever lines or devastating hooks; those are the brash techniques of portraiture. Here instead are depth, contrast, the play of light and shade: a space to explore in the company of solitude. Step through the frame, and lose yourself.