String theory

At this point, it’s pretty easy to chart the course of a mono album.

Quiet. Loud. Quiet. Quiet. Loud. Quiet. Loud. Loud. Quiet.

You get the drift.

So does the Japanese quartet do anything different on the mouthily-titled Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined that it hadn’t done previously?

The band added a string quartet.

It doesn’t sound like a big development, but it’s a subtle one.

In the beginning, mono was willing to craft melody from a wash of dischord, but not before building it up with tiny blocks of beauty.

On more recent works, the band has shifted its emphasis from the dischord to the beauty. Instead of creating a tonal blur, mono now brings its melodies forward and oftentimes quietly.

Hence, the string quartet — it’s easier to hear the quartet’s contributions so long as a wall of feedback doesn’t get in the way. Not that it actually stops the quartet.

On the dramatic conclusion of “Halcyon (beautiful days)”, the quartet is in the background, offering the contra-melody usually provided by an amplified instrument.

On “mere your pathetique light”, the quartet slowly takes over the piece, until it’s the only thing remaining.

Like “mopish morning, halation wiper” before it, “The sky remains the same as ever” imagines the quartet as an ages-old phonograph record, this time submerged in the deep sea.

Maybe it was budget constraints that didn’t allow use of an entire string orchestra — ‘cos that would have been, well, cool — but the lean tone of quartet offers a constrast to mono’s thick sound.

For all the fuzzy and ethereal pedal effects, it’s nice to hear clear tones cut through it all.

Unlike mono’s previous album One Step More and You Die, the pacing of Walking Cloud feels much more organic.

Both ends of the album are anchored by its longest tracks — the 11-minute “16.12” at the start; the 15-minute “Lost snow” at the end — with shorter tracks breaking the average 7-minute pieces.

It’s hard to tell different tracks from each with the way the album effortless flows, which is distracting in a home environment. Performed live, though, the contrast between loud and soft highlights the distinctiveness of each piece.

If you’re neighbors don’t mind, crank this album up to get the true effect.

mono pretty much delivers the same kind of music it has been delivering for the last few years, but the added instruments provide a terrific flourish.