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One of a Kind: MONO and A.A. Williams Forge a Singularity on the “Exit in Darkness” EP

exit in darkness

Collaborations are always exciting stuff, especially in the heavier and more esoteric realms of music where they’re still a rare occurrence. Often, we see both participants in these endeavors tweak their usual approaches to create a new sound that neither party can fully lay claim to: it exists only in the interdependent product sense. This week, a fleeting occurrence of such a hybridization hits the physical realm: Japanese instrumental rock pioneers MONO and the enigmatic solo artist A.A. Williams release their collaborative Exit in Darkness EP on 10″ vinyl tomorrow.

The Exit in Darkness EP is the result of less than a year’s gestation: following a chance discovery of A.A. Williams at her Roadburn set last April, the EP was recorded in London after MONO’s summer tour with a digital release falling in December. That’s a quick turnaround, but the two tracks included fully realize the creative potency of the partnership. Instrumental post-rock often shines from its devotion to its conventions, but the intensely evocative vocals added here don’t feel like a distraction from anything. Instead, they develop the themes of the underlying music in parallel, commanding equal attention without diverting any from everything else going on.

A.A. Williams wields her inimitable voice here as she does on her own material, expressively, and with incalculable precision. The subtle vibrato and bends in her delivery are applied with an artisan’s eye for detail that rounds out each lingering note. In both of the ruminative compositions, her lyrics express deeply-felt sentiments in succinct phrasing — as if they’re bottled up within the song’s runtime and have been left to ferment. With a little focus, it’s not hard to make out the words, but a listener could also simply let it all wash over them, enjoying the feelings intrinsic to each verse.

That innate emotion pairs well with MONO’s instrumental contributions, which build an otherworldly sensation by layering simple, airy melodies that take flight to orbit around Williams’ riveting voice. Described by MONO’s Takaakira “Taka” Goto as a portrayal of “a world like a soul leaving the body and getting purified”, there’s a minimalistic sense to the orchestration, including sparse percussion. That minimalism creates the perfect space for A.A. Williams’ vocals to fill out, leading to a rich, impactful sound. In keeping with the theme, the mood becomes almost optimistic at the end of closing track “Winter Light”, as if a trial has been surpassed.

The Exit in Darkness EP leaves aside some of the heavier parts of MONO’s musical inclinations, but there’s still a weight to the record that’s much higher than the 110-ish grams of the vinyl itself. MONO and A.A. Williams may never put another minute to wax together again, or if they do, it might sound entirely different — this particular EP is an indelible record of a single brief collision in both of their respective careers, and for that it’s a necessary listen.

The Exit in Darkness EP releases tomorrow on vinyl via Pelagic Records.

mono and aa

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