Mono, World's End Girlfriend, Grails

Like their crescendo-loving peers in Explosions in the Sky, Japanese post-rockers Mono lay down soundtracks for the Oscar-worthy epics in your head. Formed in 2000 as a pet project for experimental guitarist Takaakira Goto, Mono soon evolved into an instrumental quartet consisting of the basics—y'know: guitar, bass and drums. The group's early recordings—decent, but not great— were lost in the shuffle, unable to compete with all the powerful noise-rock then storming out of Japan. By 2004, however, shortly after signing with the American indie Temporary Residence, Mono started asserting itself, incorporating more elements of classical minimalism, free jazz, and Mogwai-style atmospherics into its famously intense live shows. The band released a pair of acclaimed albums in 2006, balancing beauty and aggression on the Steve Albini-recorded You Are There and collaborating with fellow countrymen World's End Girlfriend on the ambient-but-ominous orchestral work Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain.
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Andrew Clayman