The idea or image of duality is prevalent throughout western culture. From mythology to psychology, the divide between two opposing sides of some metaphysical coin holds power, mystery and fear. The culmination of this idea is in the classic split between Light and Dark. However, many interpretations exist that deviate from the typical association of light with good and dark with evil, more subtle cartographies that handle concepts of despair, hope, surrender and joy. What we are faced with here, namely the new Mono double-release — The Last Dawn/Rays of Darkness — is nothing short of that: a way to think and perceive the interaction between light and dark, via music. On the way, the band delve deep into the coils of their own sound, the bare bones of who they are as artists, and delve the pits of their own annihilation. The result is an unequivocally superb exploration of exploration and refusal, embrace and rejection, new birth and timely death of all that Mono is and was.
There’s only one place to begin and that is with the first track, ‘Land Between Tides Glory’. To best understand where this track stands in relation to the rest of the album, both in position and in its much longer running time, one would do well to picture an extension of a hand in a wide movement, presenting all that lies before him. This track is the drawing of the canvas: from the dreamy beginning, directly quoting Pink Floyd, to the inevitable crescendo at its end, this track is saying: hello. This is Mono. Before we move on, let us bask in what that means. A lot of words have been written here about what it means to write this bastard music we call “post-rock,” about emotional resonance, economy of space and substance, of raw composition. Mono have for years conducted a master class in the language and art of all of this, but whereas some of their more recent output has expanded sonically and emotionally into an overripe maudlin hue, this is different. The Last Dawn is marked by its looking purely inward for meaning, a theme that will be crucial beyond the final light.
And, indeed, the following tracks are simply that: stripped down versions of the long, long career that this band has seen. From the peaceful crenelations of ‘Where We Begin’, among the placid vales of dual tracks ‘Kanata’ and ‘Cyclone,’ we are treated to what Mono do best. These songs are organic and grow in the way that a single cell can transform over time into a beautiful living, breathing thing. They swell and evolve from the simplest of ideas into grand peaks without ever losing track of the simple beauty that defined them. No tricks, no gimmicks, no abrupt stops and starts. Just the pure rhapsody of a single idea throughout until the moment has run its course.
Simply put, The Last Dawn is the Mono sound distilled, refined and boiled down to what makes it breathe and be, to what drives the band to continue along the extended track of their careers. The best example of this is the “closing” track, ‘The Last Dawn.’ Aptly self-titled it contains all that the band are trying to tell us within its 8 minute duration: post-rock sensibilities are the basis of the sound but whether it be the far apart guitar notes or the slow-moving strings in the background, this is the track that should be played when one is faced with the question: “Who are Mono?.” Mono are this track and within its extended riffs and its mighty, catharsis drenched crescendo, lives the aural and emotional essence of this band.
Much like the release as a whole, the title The Last Dawn contains an emotional duality. With the dawn comes hope, light, a new day, a new beginning. We are looking back at what we’ve done (‘Where We Begin,’ if you will) and what we’ve experienced, but we are also looking forward — for the last time. The finality of that is in no way a contradiction, but merely the other side of the coin. There is a liberating freedom to finality, for it brings the prospect of closure. Whether that end is on the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, or somewhere in between, it will end, and something will come and replace it. But while this piece may be over, Mono are not. When the dawn comes to a close, when the day plays out, and the last light escapes us, time moves on. And what remains in its place requires another album to explore.