Nota Bene: This review was originally written on 11/27/2008 as a part of my usual music entries, but I thought I’d feature this on my Sunday Night Playlist to give an eye to a very talented group based from Japan called MONORAL.  I haven’t heard their music in quite some time, and am just revisiting much of their music, but I hope to be able to share more of their discography reflections with you in the future.

Ah, MONORAL, I’ve talked about this rather eclectic Japan-based band in a multitude of contexts on this blog, even back from their single release of “Tuesday”. Since it’s been some time since my last entry on them, I’m going to do a bit of recon about them. Most would probably recognize them from the OP song to the series “Ergo Proxy”, and if its another measure, they were signed under the same record label as that of L’arc~en~Ciel lead vocalist HYDE. They’ve released three main albums (and two mini-albums) to date: “Petrol”, “Turbulence” and their latest effort, “Via.”

I’ll probably up a review discography entry for their previous albums, but I thought I’d give Via its own entry considering it hasn’t been terribly long since it was released, and it deserves due mention. This was another album I anxiously awaited the release of in collective context, and it was one of those releases that completely eluded me until the last minute. Matter of fact, I think the singles for “Casbah” and “Saifra” weren’t even completely within me yet before I heard the album in collective context.

I bought the album from Itunes and I wasn’t disappointed after the first few times hearing it from an overall perspective. Energetic tracks like “You”, “Saifra”, and “Casbah” infectiously make your way into your brain, while tracks like “Costa Rica”, “Everest”, “Sometimes” and “I Don’t Mind” are consistent with their smooth, melodic style shown in the band’s previous offerings. I would say their third album release doesn’t quite have the infectious range of “Turbulence”, and it does have moments where it doesn’t quite have as prominent appeal. Yet, I find that it’s hard not to be drawn into “Via’s” overall landscape, and the album does a nice job with its respective leanings.

So what fared well and what seemed to take away from the album in perspective? Find out below the tracklisting and cut. 😉

monoralviaalbumcoverrose

Released: October 29th, 2008

Tracklisting:
1. Everybody’s Way ( 1:48 )
2. You (3:49)
3. Costa Rica (3:50)
4. Saifra ( 3:48 )
5. Via ( 4:28 )
6. Guards of Mice (3:40)
7. Everest (4:12)
8. Sun Shadow (4:12)
9. Casbah (3:16)
10. I Don’t Mind (2:49)
11. Sometimes (4:55)

I don’t deny myself as a fan of MONORAL in perspective, matter of fact, they’re among my top 5 groups listened to under both Itunes and on my Last.fm account. Yet, I found myself examining “Via” under a microscopic lens and finding a few places where it loses a few steps in between. There are a number of songs here that are beautifully crafted and gems in the spectrum of the album, while others don’t quite make the upper tier when juxtaposed to their previous efforts. MONORAL is an incredibly consistent band, there’s little, if any denial in that because they have a formula that works for a wide range of audiences. They take after their respective influences (Foo Fighters vibe comes off the strongest here), and it’s well noted where their creative directions go.

“Via” reminds me a little of the vein in which “Petrol” traveled, the latter of which had primarily melodically steady songs with an underlying yearning within them, occasionally tipped by a couple of heavy hitters (“Don’t You Look Away”, “Like You”).

“Via” begins with a rather brief introduction in “Everybody’s Way”, a complimentary track where it invites the listener with a hypothetical question: “Everybody has someplace to go/….how about you?” One could probably take it as an invitation to the ride that they will take the listener on for the greater course of the album and its steady rhythms are both lush and inviting to note. When “You” begins, the infectious energy grabs hold and doesn’t let go. With unyielding swagger and dynamic rhythm, MONORAL assert themselves unyielding in their dedication, and Anis’ vocals are spot on to this dynamic. “Costa Rica” follows with a fitting arrangement to its title: steady, melodic and flowing. The song doesn’t strip the grit, but rather weaves it into a seductively sweet coat. “Saifra” kicks the energy back up with an Eastern twist, first with a gradually building rhythm before it explodes into the chorus of a relationship with unyielding honesty, asking a lover “…to make it up before you break it off/I won’t bleed myself to make it through to you.” “Casbah”, which comes later in the album, seems to radiate a similar feel in its heavy instrumentation with an Arabian feel. Both “Saifra” and “Casbah” made for some of the strongest singles to represent the album, though it isn’t so much definitive of the collective sound of the album, something that could be a hit or a miss depending on how you take it.

“Via” is an effective song in a romantic sense, though it’s hard to tell the tonality of it in measures. Even if the meaning can be interpreted in a number of different directions, it’s difficult not to find yourself caught in its sway. I found the lyrics to have a positive slant within a sea of negative tones, something that isn’t new territory for MONORAL and they approach it quite nicely, though I feel that if I were to judge it in the schematic of the album, I wouldn’t necessarily cite it as strongly as the other offerings here. I was a little disappointed with “Guards of Mice”, whether it may have been in its overall tonality following Via or something entirely different, it felt misplaced. Anis’ vocals to this track are beautiful, but the message meanders a bit and doesn’t come across as strongly as some of its peer tracks.

“Everest” is a track that reminded me, fondly, of “Frozen Peak” from “Petrol”. One could say both songs share the same strength, building, lush instrumentation, potent vocals and well crafted lyrics. “Everest” on the contrary, builds its respective strength in its radiant, anthemic qualities, which peak in its chorus, sporting prominent electric guitar accompaniment. “Sun Shadow” is strong in its melancholic, reflective message with an intentionally understated melody, while walking a fine edge in progression.

“I Don’t Mind” is one of the shortest tracks on “Via”, but it’s respective message and schematic work well. When Anis croons in his repetitions of the respective title, it’s difficult not to be drawn into its larger progression, haunting and beautifully understated in its potency. “Sometimes” closes the album on a strong note, following in the understated beauty of the former track. The mood set by the song is carefree and welcome in embracing life and love, all while recognizing a number of different faults (“Sometimes I’ll run to hide my anger/Sometimes I’ll lie to you”)

My personal picks among the strongest this album has to offer include “You”, “Costa Rica”, both singles (“Saifra” and “Casbah”), and “Sometimes”. I think fans of MONORAL can come into this album without worry and will be able to appreciate what the group contributes on the album. I hit personal bumps with a few of the songs here (“Guards of Mice”, “Via”) but I was able to appreciate what they had to offer me in retrospect. I wouldn’t say it’s as cohesively strong as their previous albums, but it holds it own and can stand as one of the strongest releases this year.

Overall score: 8/10

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