MONO & world’s end girlfriend
Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain
was planning at some point to note where exactly it is that “Part Five,” the final track of Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain, metamorphoses from merely a satisfying conclusion into the single most magnificent piece of music I'd heard all year. I knew there was a moment where I felt this; where the drums come in, or the guitars reach a crescendo, or when the two plangent string refrains finally begin to weep in unison. But while re-listening to the piece, two things happened: First I lost count of the moments that made my heart break, and then I lost the ability to count. “Part Five,” and to a lesser but still impressive extent the rest of this album, strips my brain of thought and leaves me unable to form words. I'd say this is one of the finest “imaginary soundtracks” ever released if I could just think of a film that wouldn't seem hideously overpowered by it.
MONO & world's end girlfriend could have released this as just the nineteen minute “Part Five” and it would still be impressive. Anyone who wishes that Mogwai (as gratifying as Mr. Beast is) would return to the emotional intensity of “My Father My King” or “Hugh Dallas,” or who just wishes Godspeed You! Black Emperor would return, period, owes it to themselves to hear this. It is, and I don't say this lightly, better than any full-length the latter band has produced.
MONO had to date focused mostly on their guitars, but here those instruments don't even really make themselves known until the third track. From the liner notes it's hard to tell who did what, especially when it comes to Katsuhiko Maeda (AKA world's end girlfriend): he produces and writes along with MONO, but his actual fingerprint is exceedingly faint and blurry. The string quartet, piano, and chorus operating under the aegis of the two named groups are often given vast swathes of time and space to themselves, the second and fourth parts in particular bearing no relation to even the most artful rock. The shortest track here is just under twelve minutes, with each part ebbing and flowing at its own neoclassical pace.
While it's possible and maybe even a little unavoidable at first to view the first fifty-five or so minutes of Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain as prelude to the breathtaking “Part Five,” further attention reveals a work that really does work best writ large. It wasn't until my fifth listen that I consciously registered, eight minutes into “Part One,” the delicate beginnings of the guitar refrain that wouldn't fully blossom until “Part Three.” It's one of those ineffably sad refrains that would rip your heart out even on its own, and paired with the distant wash of cymbals and some equally well-judged melodies from the string quartet it's almost too much to bear. It comes back again in altered form on “Part Five,” the only section where the band fully busts out their customary fireworks—a restraint that only enhances Palmless’ conclusion.
To say that this disc is excessive is both its one weakness and greatest strength; on the one hand most people don't need seventy-four minutes of achingly lovely and glacial orchestral austerity, music that is content to stretch out and take plenty of time to get from the good bits to the really amazing bits. Even some people relatively disposed to this sort of thing might listen a few times, keep the third and fifth parts for the relative highs and ditch the rest. I've tried listening to the “highlights” in isolation and it's not the same; it’s like skipping parts of The Deer Hunter to watch the Russian Roulette scene.
MONO & world's end girlfriend manage to make what at first seem like the boring sections of their work hold just as much power as the initially attractive ones, and if you give it a chance it quickly becomes qualitatively different from most music you hear. It’s the type of music that demands your full attention to have any kind of effect. And when you give it, you'll find it hurts; be prepared to recall every time you had to watch someone walk away, every dying pet from childhood, every thing you wish you hadn't just said.