The fact that Mogwai’s debut album, Mogwai Young Team, was released 17 years ago makes me feel very old indeed. I first encountered this now venerable band back in 1998 at an extremely sweaty show in the defunct but legendary Leeds pub venue The Duchess Of York. Mogwai’s set ended with indie guitar hero David Pajo (of Slint fame) joining them onstage for an apocalyptic rendition of “Mogwai Fear Satan.”
Good times; but I digress. The intervening years have seen Mogwai hone their quiet/loud dynamics and dense, dark brand of post-rock soundscape and consistently deliver live shows of chest-vibrating, eardrum-splitting volume hitherto unknown outside of a My Bloody Valentine gig.
Latest release The Rave Tapes sees the Scottish quintet abandon their post-rock roots entirely in favor of pounding beats, layers of samples, and catchy hooks. No, not really. Though there are more than a few synths present in the album’s ten tracks, the returning fan will not be confronted by a dramatic shift in musical direction.
Those who heard leading track “Remurdered” on SoundCloud last October could feasibly have concluded that Mogwai had indeed concocted a post-rock record that fans could actually dance to. As it turns out, despite being a track that would not sound out of place at the end of any indie disco playlist, “Remurdered” is the closest we get to a full-on post-rock/dance crossover here.
Opener “Heard About You Last Night” seems almost to pick up from the band’s most recent work, most notably featured on the excellent Les Revenants soundtrack, with its gentle percussion and insistent, hypnotic guitar. Later, the guitars are left soaring in the background as the synths take center stage on the pulsating “Simon Ferocious;” while on the brief but memorable “Hexagon Bogon” it is very much the bass riffs that propel the song forward. This, along with the chiming guitar playing, recalls much of Mogwai’s best earlier work.
Interestingly, the synth-bass led “Repelish” sounds a little like some lost nugget from an 80’s John Carpenter science-fiction movie, but it becomes something even more menacing when the sampled vocal discussion of the satanic implications of rock music, a recurring theme for Mogwai, is taken into account.
What this album does introduce to the Mogwai milleu, aside from a few more synth flourishes, is perhaps a more restrained and mature dynamic approach than we have come to expect. Yes, there are still the moments of tension and release which have been the hallmark of this band’s sound for so long, but there is now the sense that, as a band, Mogwai feel more at ease, more confident than ever in using a greater range of dynamics than could be found in their earlier releases. Keep up the good work, gentlemen.