Well, this was *supposed* to be a Rainbows that went up two days ago, but, you know, life and stuff. Still, I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t move things around to make time to talk about another notch in the belt of 2021 being one of the best years for post-rock in recent memory. But then again, you probably already had an idea that a new MONO album was going to be good. Anybody who wasn’t expecting that has probably never listened to MONO, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere and Pilgrimage of the Soul is as good as anything they have ever done, which is to say it is utterly astonishing.
2021 also marks a big year for MONO, as Pilgrimage of the Soul is their second full-length (and then some) of this, their twentieth year as a band. This monumental occasion was marked by the band’s Beyond the Past live album (which I had the distinct pleasure of not only reviewing but pairing with Pelagic’s excellent coffee right here), which might have been enough on its own, but Pilgrimage of the Soul also rounds out this year with their 11th release of new material. As far as sound goes, Pilgrimage doesn’t mark a huge transition for the band, although it does renew their partnership with hometown hero and, in this writer’s humble opinion, one of the finest engineers to ever grace the board, The Steve Albini. The overall sound is just as lush and full as it has ever been, full of gentle, gorgeous melodies and continuing MONO’s use of string arrangements to supplement their genre-bending take on post-rock. What’s more, the band has also released short films to accompany the two lead singles “Riptide” and “Innocence,” because why wouldn’t they?
At the end of the day, when a band has been around as long as MONO has, and especially when a band has so consistently put out absolutely transcendent music, you know what to expect from them, and MONO doesn’t do anything to reinvent their particular wheel. What they do is deliver the emotionally devastating, hauntingly breathtaking music that has gotten them exactly where they are right now, at the top of the proverbial mountain. There are moments on Pilgrimage that truly take my breath away, and quite a few of them. “Heaven in a Wildflower” is about as perfect as any song can get, and it does an excellent job of showcasing that MONO can accomplish exactly what they set out to with delicate simplicity just as effectively as with heavy-hitting force. “Riptide” is a good example of the latter, playing off a much more aggressive side than at least I’ve come to know the band. While still being highly melodic, the drums pound and almost from the get-go the guitars scream and wail out somber and mournful lines that swirl in their trademark whooshy reverb. The strings on “Innocence” are another example of how MONO continue to push themselves to the boundaries of emotion, mixing classic post-rock crescendos with the symphonic elements that have come to define their later career. Pilgrimage is an album that is dreamlike in nature, with a truly spectacular blend of beauty and aggression, all in precisely measured doses.
Even if you think you know what you’re expecting, somehow MONO manages to blow you away anyway by delivering exactly that. There is something truly magical about the way they have managed to continually capture that special something all these years, and Pilgrimage shines as an absolute triumph in a discography that really doesn’t have any bad spots. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go spin this a bunch more times and get all up in my feelings.