Saturday, 25 January 2014

Mogwai - Rave Tapes (Album Review 2014)

The musical chronology of Mogwai can be defined as three acts. The début masterpiece Mogwai Young Team with its epic triplets Like Herod, R U Still In 2 It and Mogwai Fear Satan, the difficult and inconsistent but often brilliant Come On Die Young, and the textured ground-breaking keyboard-infused Rock Action, form act one. Added to these are the band's early EPs, collectively released as EP+6. Act two is one of the best trilogies of albums by any band: Happy Songs For Happy People, Mr Beast and The Hawk Is Howling are the combined sound of a band ascending to greatness; if anyone wants to own a near-perfect example of 'post rock', they should look no further than these. This era also includes the first adventurous steps into film scoring, something Mogwai were born to do: Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is a dark, ambient and subtle soundtrack. And now, seventeen years after the band's début, Mogwai are expanding their horizons in act three: the live album Special Moves, the Earth Division EP and 'upbeat' studio album Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (in spite of the harsh title this is one of Mogwai's lighter and more liberated albums, including the wonderful Music For A Forgotten Future), then another wonderful soundtrack: Les Revenants to accompany an extraordinary series of French television (The Returned in the UK) followed a slightly disappointing remix album A Wrenched Virile Lore. An impressive body of work, now complimented by Mogwai's eighth studio release, Rave Tapes.

From the opening song, Heard About You Last Night, it's clear that Rave Tapes is an electronic-infused artistic return to The Hawk Is Howling; a typical Mogwai introduction: building slowly as a soundtrack fragment before the guitars glide in, to provide the melody, then joined by strings and synthesizers. The loose, lumbering arrangement is held together with Martin Bulloch's sublime percussion. This fails to translate into momentum (in the same way as Mr Beast's Auto Rock dives into Glasgow Maga-Snake and Batcat arrives early on The Hawk Is Howling to drive the album forward), as the fuzzy production and slow-pace of Simon Ferocious makes for a subdued start. Again, the drumming is superb. It is not until the start of Remurdered that Rave Tapes shows its teeth - the dark, menacing dread of a 'bass line' and creepy atmosphere juxtaposed with fragmented drums and guitars. Three minutes in and the keyboards and drums arrive, like the soundtrack to a movie in which 8-bit machines take over the unsuspecting world. The song builds as more layers of guitars add to the threat, while the electronic threads march to the cold, calculated finale.

Hexon Bogon is a flash of brilliance; a rare two-and-a-half-minute swathe of guitars, drums and epic production before the beguiling wonder of Repelish, an uneasy mix of start-stop guitar melody and spoken word - talking of the dangers of demonic subliminal messages in rock music. Easily the most eclectic song on any Mogwai album; unique, compelling and unexpected. Master Card is back on course, a furious staccato guitar-led piece building to a messy and abrupt finish, before the magnificent Deesh provides another highlight: a gorgeous blend of guitars, drums and keyboards used to construct a melodic arrangement of hope and despair. Mogwai at their supreme best. The final trio of songs on Rave Tapes add more vocals to an otherwise, and typical, instrumental world. Blues Hour reworks Cody beautifully with added muddy guitars and stirring piano, the soft vocals creating a new instrument instead of talking centre-stage, while No Medicine For Regret is the late highlight, with its breathtaking vibrato melody washing over the dense brooding backdrop. To close, The Lord Is Out Of Control is a lazy, droning, vocoder-filled non-entity which feels like an unnecessary distraction.

It isn't clear if Rave Tapes is the end of act three or the start of act four for Mogwai. What is clear, is a return to safety as if the band need to revisit their most creative and productive period. This makes the album a predictable and unsurprising experience, which is no bad thing - when listening to the new Bob Dylan you wouldn't expect 80s electro-pop. Mogwai's signature and unique personality is all over Rave Tapes, a thoroughly enjoyable hybrid of past and present, safe yet edgy, different but the same - exactly what you would expect from a band consistently redefining their post-rock world.
- CS

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