Tuesday, November 1, 2011

JAM DESHO: Mono & World's End Girlfriend - Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain

By Steve Jones.

This week on the Samsonite Samurai, we feature a bit of a departure from last week's psycho-synth popPalmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain is one of the most starkly gorgeous pieces of music you are liable to find.  You will cry, you will love it, and it will carry you through a cold winter.

The quality of the album should come as no surprise; it is a collaboration between two giants of the Japanese music scene.  Mono is a post-rock group which has gained a sizable following and reputation outside of Japan.  World's End Girlfriend has not quite reached that level of fame, but he is still rather well-known as a composer of eclectic pieces which span from glitchy IDM to post-rock to modern classical.  When these two come together, it is like Nutella and peanut butter--so good and beautiful that you cannot help but think of an early death.

Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain functions as one 75 minute long piece which, for convenience's sake, is split into five untitled tracks (usually referred to as "Part One," "Part Two," etc.).  Its main tools are a string quartet and a rock band, although a piano, saxophone (practically a World's End Girlfriend trademark), and some female vocalizing are also used.  This is an instrumental work, and it is composed like a modern classical piece with post-rock elements.  The music is slow moving and patient, and it will function just fine if you want to put it in the background, but you will be cheating yourself out of an experience.  What causes this album to grow is a pair of headphones and your own thoughts.

I am drawn to PP/MMR due to how beautiful and depressing and dark everything moment of it is.  It isn't dark in the modern angst-ridden sense, but more so in a bleak, traversing a wasteland at twilight sense, much like how the cover art looks and feels.  Although this is an album which takes its time, it is a journey and does exhibit an emotional progression from wholly upsetting to cathartic, reflective, and, finally, sad but optimistic.  The first two parts build tension with both sound and space.  The third part eventually releases this tension.  The fourth is quiet and ponderous.  And the fifth part acts as a microcosm of the entire album, again moving the listener in and out of various emotions.  The tension of the strings, the competing fragility and intensity of the guitar, and the pacing make every note resonate with feeling.  Sometimes an entire movement will rest on one impeccably placed note, and when it arrives you can feel your heart heave in your chest.

As with all instrumental works, everybody's interpretation is going to differ, but to me this album is about death.  It is black but not harsh, quiet but not ambient.  It is a requiem mass, a dirge, and a call to attention towards the rough beast, terrible yet awe-inspiring, slouching towards Bethlehem.  It is a reminder that there is much fear and beauty to be found in the inevitable unknown.

The mixing of post-rock and classical elements is nothing new or original, but no other band has wielded these elements in such a heart-wrenching way.  This is perfect winter music, as well as a great introduction to Mono and/or World's End Girlfriend.

You can hear the first track below, but I recommend listening to the entire album unbroken.

What do you think?  Is this music overwrought, or is it passionate?

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