Welcome to Emotional Overtones, our feature set out to overcome genre borders and create a more intimate relationship with music! Now with more words! We here at Everything Is Noise think that genres can sometimes be a little limiting, which is why I created this feature. Every episode of Emotional Overtones will feature a certain emotion (for example: Melancholy, Euphoria, Apathy) as its topic, and four to five writers will chose records based on this emotion or based on memories that conjure this emotion in connection to this record. There are no limits to genre, length, style, or band; everything is allowed as long as the writer feels it’s right and can explain their stance. This feature will be an ongoing series until for varying emotions of varying complexity.
Today’s episode is about ‘Mono No Aware’, a complex Japanese term. To explain this, mono no aware means ‘the bitter sweetness of fading beauty‘.
Personally, I felt like it’s an emotion with interesting implications and many possible interpretations, while simultaneously being easy to understand. These are the thoughts of our writers Andrew, Ashley, Vidur, Jake on this topic:
Once I knew what ‘Mono no aware’ meant, it took mere milliseconds for me to pick Closer, the second (and final) album by the seminal Manchester post-punk band Joy Division. Read that part again: ‘second and final’. Closer influenced countless bands that came after it, and stands as a monument. But like the monument Joy Division chose as the album’s cover photograph, it is a tomb. Closer was released but two months after singer Ian Curtis committed suicide, mere hours before the band was scheduled to depart for what would have been their first North American tour. From its moment of release, Closer would stand as a testament to the fleeting fragility of beauty, and it would have been that way even if Ian Curtis’s lyrics did not portray a bleak world, devoid of hope or meaning to the connectedness between the days in a human life. Gut-wrenching couplets like ‘I look beyond the day at hand/There’s nothing there at all’ (from “24 Hours”) twist like a knife in a soul all too accustomed to pain.
Joy Division may have realized this ephemeral quality from the start. One of their best-known songs, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, came from the Closer sessions, but they chose not to put it on the album. They felt it would have clashed with the stark, gothic froidure they created in Closer.
Hearing this album always puts me in touch with the struggles I have gone through, the ones that left me feeling trapped in a stasis that could only fade to nothing. The kind of emptiness from which one could find respite through momentary pleasures, momentary appreciation for beauty; the kind of beauty that gives you a comfort that I knew would not last, not deliver me from the emptiness. Without going into too much detail, I can say I feel thankful I did not listen to Joy Division’s Closer during many times of my life. I can look back on them now from a more stable place – perhaps sad the band that made Closer would morph into the too poppy for my tastes New Order, leaving me to wonder what could have been had Ian Curtis not died – but ever thankful this stark, bleak masterpiece will always be with us.
One can acknowledge the beauty of Fragments of Silence even when its very nature is shrouded. The dreamy guitars and eloquent vocals evoke a being of divinity lost in a haze, almost unreal in its folky and progressive conventions, and floating gently upon an unobtrusive tempo. Is this partially formed portrayal supposed to represent something not yet fully formed, or something steadily ceasing to exist? Is it a birth or a death?
Well, for the veil of dreaminess to be so sad, there had to once be something of clarity beyond that veil. For the lyrical content and the music itself to have such sombre respect for the conventions of beauty, that music must have once known and loved beauty with untempered conviction. Even in the most charismatic moments of the record there is an unfaltering fixation with the past. Surely only a swansong of hefty experience can be so obsessed with what once was. There is no bewilderment at the idea of creation, which means creation is a thing no longer apparent.
Fragments of Silence is a frozen point in time, where beauty is not just documented, but celebrated with a painful mourning of its passing. The listener succumbs to a narrative whose connection with passing wonderment is so profound, we tend to ponder ourselves on what brought the narrator him/herself to sich fond longing. Alas, we only know the end chapter of this fading beauty. As human beings with sad chapters of our own, we connect all the same.
I remember the first time that I heard Woods Of Ypres. I was on one of those dives through YouTube and when I heard “I Was Buried In Mount Pleasant Cemetery”. The dive stopped, and I immediately began look into more from Woods. I found Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light and listened from front to back several times that day. David Gold’s voice was deep and haunting, and when paired with songs like “Silver” and “Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye)”, the melancholy is almost more than one can bear. After very little research, I learned of the tragic passing of singer and band leader David Gold, and my heart sank.
His passing was just a few months before the release of this album, which showed the greatest progression of Woods Of Ypres as a band and Gold’s songwriting was hitting its stride. A life cut short is always tragic; losing a talent such as this at a time when he was hitting his stride creatively is doubly affecting. Hearing the dour and somber lyrics of songs such as those mentioned above and Gold’s heartbreaking ballad “Finality” posthumously is something that will never lose impact on me. Woods 5 is a landmark album that continues to be one of the most sobering listens in my library.
Few bands leave such a strong impression that it becomes one of the basic foundations of an entire genre. But My Dying Bride did just that with their sophomore record Turn Loose the Swans in 1993. The band was among the first to create a collision of melodic and darker directions, giving the music a death-doom metal sound with gothic underlayers. This resulted in a fragility and impermanence (mujō) that cannot be put into words surrounding Turn Loose the Swans. This is where ‘mono-no-aware’ comes in.
Tracks like “Your River” and “The Crown of Sympathy” impart a feeling of being completely powerless against an undefeatable darkness, but they do it with a melancholic beauty of such caliber that a feeling of hopefulness somehow always manages to blend in.
‘Pour yourself into me/ Our time approaches so near, that I sigh/What danger in such an adorer?/We dance and the music dies.’ – “Sear Me MCMXCIII”
It’s not only the music, but also the well crafted poetic lyrics by Aaron Stainthorpe that capture what the album wishes to convey. Based on 18th century poetry, they showcase an appreciation and gratitude for the chance to witness the beauty in the world around us, however fleeting it may be. This creates a shroud of mystery around the music, cryptic and obscure, forcing the listeners to dig deep and interpret their own meaning.
It also marks an end of an era for My Dying Bride, as they took a more gothic/melodic direction from this point on. Turn Loose the Swans was all but a passing phase in the musical journey of the band. A striking piece of art whose beauty can only be experienced and not described.