As guitarist and one the founders of MONO, Takaakira Goto (or Taka to his friends) is more than well versed in creating immersive post-rock soundscapes that not only pull at the heartstrings but that are also capable of crushing emotions under slabs of dense noise.
Under the guise of Behind The Dhadow Drops, H a r m o n i c finds Taka moving in a slightly different direction to the music he’s made over the course of 20 years with MONO, but retains many of the qualities that are associated with his band. There are is little in the way of the shimmering crescendos or walls of guitar attack, yet his ability to create intense emotional responses to his music remains firmly intact. There may not be the expected outright bombast here, but there are moments on H a r m o n i c that are incredibly heavy, tense, beautiful and phenomenally sad.
This somewhat depressive mood hangs over much of the album, but it is particularly prevalent whenever Helen Money’s sorrowful string parts make an appearance. Trace Of The Snow Waltz is almost uncomfortably melancholy, with its simple piano motifs supported by long and aching notes swept from the depths of Money’s cello. Taka does allow for a glimpse of light to sneak in as the song progresses, but the overriding sense here is one of utter grief.
Admittedly, this might not sound like much fun. Gloomy but well composed neo-classical is not for everyone after all, but there’s more to H a r m o n i c than long drawn out tracks of musical morbidity. For a start, there’s a track called Utopia, and Utopia is exactly the kind of place you’d want to visit. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of course, and Taka’s version of Utopia sounds somewhat different to most people’s idea of what paradise is like. For a start, there’s a drum beat that positively crackles with electronic filth; part trip-hop, part foot fall of a robotic death elephant. As the track kicks off, for just a moment it sounds like an industrial gothic nightmare, but then those delicate guitar lines wrap around the electronic pulse like vines reclaiming the rusting bodies of abandoned war machines. It’s affective, beguiling, and actually quite pretty when the strings enter the fray, but it doesn’t sound like the sort of utopia most people would recognise.
Positive Shadow, Negative Light appears to be taking its lead, initially at least, from John Carpenter. Its simplistic, basic sounding synths are foreboding as they throb ominously through the clouds of guitar scree that opens the track. Once the thundering drums kick in, H a r m o n i c achieves some kind aggressive momentum albeit it for just a moment although it never quite resolves in the way you would expect from a leading proponent of post-rock pay offs.
If there’s one thing missing from the majority of album it’s those moments of release and crescendos, but sometimes it’s enough to wallow in the soundscapes without needing that build towards a resolution. The main exception to the rule comes in the shape of the title track, which follows the usual narrative of post-rock with a slow build, careful orchestration and smart layering of distortion and drum patterns. After this brief foray into relatively familiar territory, Ether returns the album to much calmer atmospherics, but where earlier sections of the album possessed a mournful tone, it sports a much brighter, positive feel.
H a r m o n i c might not exist in the post-rock world, but in exploring new sonic territories Taka has created an album that is filled with emotion and moments of genuine wonder. At times it is a hard listen, but it is worth the patience and perseverance.