Grace Notes is a weekly exploration by Jason Morehead of signs of common grace in the music world. We hope to alert you to wonderful music, some of which will be spiritual in nature but all of which will be unique and worthy of your attention. Each week we will share brief reviews of albums worthy of your attention and maybe a video or two.
Thanks to the likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Mogwai, and Explosions In The Sky, apocalyptic post-rock bands have become a dime a dozen, with numerous artists doing their darndest to craft epic soundscapes out of walls of guitar, sweeping orchestral arrangements, and quiet/loud dynamics. Japan’s Mono has been doing just that since 1999, and for my money, they’re currently the best out there. On paper, their basic aesthetic — i.e., songs that build at a glacial pace from fragile guitar melodies to full-bore onslaughts of roaring guitars and pummeling drums — is nothing new if you’ve ever listened to any of the aforementioned artists. But I find their music, even at its loudest and wildest — and it gets really loud and really wild — to be imbued with a certain warmth and sentimentality that makes their music more than just mere sturm un drang. Indeed, there’s a sense of hope and fulfillment that serves as a silver lining for even the band’s darkest moments, often manifesting as little more than a lovely little guitar melody, percussion fill, or orchestral arrangement. A good place to start would be 2009’s Hymn to the Immortal Wind, or 2010’s live album Holy Ground. Mono is currently slated to release their next full-length, titled For My Parents, this September, and based on the few snippets that they’ve posted on their website, it promises to be another gorgeous and emotional album.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon
Brother Sun, Sister Moon is the duo of Alicia Merz (Birds of Passage) and Gareth Munday (Roof Light), and between the two of them, they cover quite a bit of musical territory on their self-titled debut. Their music veers from psychedelic folk to blissed out post-rock, from autumnal electronica to off-kilter hip-hop. But no matter what genre the duo is dabbling in, their music maintains a consistent feel due to the atmospheric haze that drifts about every single song. Gauzy vocals, vinyl pops and hisses, samples of echoing children’s laughter, field recordings of bird songs and distant church bells… elements like these give the album an otherworldly and nostalgic feel, as if by listening to its songs you’re somehow peeking in on Merz and Munday’s long-lost childhood memories. That may sound a bit melodramatic, but I challenge you to listen to songs like “Ghosts Of Barry Mill”, “From Grain To Flour”, or “South Downs By Morning” without waxing a bit nostalgic yourself. Brother Sun, Sister Moon can be streamed and purchased on Bandcamp.
After Ghost of David, I basically stopped listening to Damien Jurado. It wasn’t that I stopped liking his brand of indie folk. It was that I listened to Ghost of David incessantly during a particularly dark period, and after it had passed, I found it difficult to listen to his music without dredging that junk back up again. Jump ahead several years, and I decided to buy Maraqopa on a whim, and what a revelation. For starters, Jurado is still as understated and affecting as ever, due in no small part to his hushed, ragged voice. Also, Jurado has found an able producer and collaborator in Richard Swift, who embellishes Jurado’s humble songs with psychedelia and atmospherics, resulting in a rich listening experience full of intriguing sonic details (check out the Neil Young meets Phil Spector sylings of “Nothing Is The News”). But with a gifted singer/songwriter like Jurado, it’s still all about the songs, and he’s written some doozies: “Life Away From The Garden” and “This Time Next Year” are ghostly odes/laments for God and faith, and “Reel To Reel” is likely the most cryptic confessional about the dreams and delusions inherent to being a musician that you’ll hear all year.