In 2014, instrumental rock band Mono released two LPs simultaneously: “The Last Dawn” and “Rays of Darkness.” The albums stripped the band’s sound down to its bare essentials, eschewing the orchestral sounds it had become known for and instead going for the sound of a raw rock band with two emotional sides: a light and dark side.
While the process of making the two records was emotionally tiring for guitarist and primary composer Takaakira “Taka” Goto, once it was all over it left a creative space for the musician.
That space allowed Goto enough freedom after 16 years of being in Mono to start a new solo project with the album “Classical Punk and Echoes Under the Beauty.”
The way he decided to start it however, was a bit unconventional.
“I held onto this album for 12 years. I didn’t share it with anyone and I wasn’t planning to either,” says Goto, via email while on tour with Mono in Europe. “But one time I shared it with our label in Europe and they asked if they could release it. There were a few parts that I wanted to fix, but I decided not to touch it. I felt like I had to release it the way it was. When I listen to this album now I can hear myself from that time inside it.”
“Classical Punk and Echoes Under the Beauty” was released in April from Magniph (with an international release via Pelagic Records) and was originally recorded in 2003 by Goto himself on his computer, using the drum and orchestral samples he had accumulated. The result is a beautiful, raw and unedited version of the guitarist from more than a decade ago.
The album started out as an experiment in utilizing string arrangements in a rock context, something the band had begun dabbling in at the time. The trial run on “Classical Punk” was later brought to fruition on Mono’s subsequent releases — particularly on “Hymn to the Immortal Wind,” which featured elaborate orchestral arrangements backing the four-piece rock band.
“At the time I was looking for the drama and space-like feel of Beethoven and Gustav Mahler,” Goto says. “The mood, sadness and happiness that strings have, which is different from guitar music. I didn’t just want to put an orchestra on top of a rock band. I was looking for the possibility of a new sound in rock music.”
Tracks such as “Till the Night Comes,” an uplifting ballad that suddenly gains a kinetic energy with a riveting, goosebumps-inducing violin midway through, and “Uka — Tenshi no Ibuki” (“Emergence — The Breath of an Angel”), a drumless ambient track making use of a reverse delay, are both highlights that effectively employ extensive looping and sampling. The other tracks on the album are much more sparse and naked than the compositions of Mono, however they retain a similar cinematic quality.
The soundtrack vibe on “Classical Punk” perhaps goes without saying, considering the instrumental nature of the music, although it is not completely unfounded; according to Goto, the album was partially inspired by director Lars von Trier’s 1996 film “Breaking the Waves,” a film about a young woman who is asked by her husband to have sex with other men after he is immobilized in an accident.
“The theme of expressing life by focusing on death is one I wanted to express with my music,” Goto says. “At the time, I wanted to write songs focusing on women, just like how Lars works with women as the central theme. The sounds of classical instruments seemed appropriate for this.”
Not only is the album a return to Goto’s past, but the guitarist hopes it will lead to something in the future, and he plans to release a second album next year with all new material. For now, though, he seems content with aknowledging this part of his past.
“I wanted to give these songs a home,” Goto explains. “I wanted to share them with people all over the world. The songs would be better off that way, rather than laying dormant in my room forever.”
“Classical Punk and Echoes Under the Beauty” is in stores now. Mono is about to begin a North American tour that starts in Washington, D.C., on June 9. For more information, visit www.monoofjapan.com or www.takagoto.com.