MONO & world's end girlfriend: Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain
Temporary Residence Ltd.

Japanese quartet MONO follows its masterful You Are There with a collaboration involving fellow Tokyo native and modern electronic composer world's end girlfriend (Katsuhiko Maeda). The last section aside, the principals cede much of the playing to others, primarily a string quartet whose mournful playing often dominates this five-part work. The classical character of the instrumentation extends to the composition itself which gravitates towards a deeply elegiac style of holy minimalism. The funereal character of the work and its emphasis on gradual transformation is a natural outgrowth of both MONO's and Maeda's sensibilities.

Though the work's title suggests that the first half (Palmless Prayer) will be devotional in character and that the second (Mass Murder Refrain) may exhibit the crushing ferocity of You Are There, the work itself doesn't conform to that simple structure; instead, Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain exercises severe restraint with only the final section, a nearly 20 minute-long epic, a spotlight for bone-crushing guitar fury. The gorgeous opening ‘movement' begins with interwoven swells of violin and cello before electric guitar, bass, and piano quietly join in during its second half, slowly increasing the density until the second part signals an abrupt reduction. Mujika Easel's ghostly voice and the phantom whisper of high-pitched strings lend a haunted quality to part two. Gentle peals of electric guitar inaugurate part three, and the soft rustle of tom-toms announces the first appearance of MONO drummer Yasunori Takada. The middle ‘movement' becomes a slow-burning crescendo as MONO cranks up the guitar volume, stoking molten fire. It's a controlled fire, however, as the part escalates to a peak but then slowly subsides, the intensity diminishing as it moves towards the section's close. The fourth part's wordless sighs and delicate strings set the stage for the work's piece de resistance, its climactic fifth part. Takafumi Ishikawa's sax appears at the placid outset, abetting the glacial escalation in mood, but the instrument eventually disappears into the towering vortex MONO generates during the second half. After joyfully awakening to the promise of a new day, the music slowly intensifies to a point of euphoric, guitar-drenched surrender before deflating to a delicate piano-and-strings coda. Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain is clearly a remarkable, graceful, and often beautiful work, but it's also long at 74 minutes and one wonders whether judicious editing might have transformed it into a more economical 50-minute piece without sacrificing any of its grandeur in the process.

October 2006