It seems quite amazing that Mogwai actually formed 19 years ago. Throughout that time they have developed a sound that manages to be both challenging and accessible. Fresh from the critical success of their soundtrack to the French TV show Les Revenants, in English The Returned, the band are back with Rave Tapes, their 8th studio album.
Without trying to pigeon-hole the band by tying them down to genre or two, the best description I can give of Mogwai to the uninitiated is that rather than mere songs, the band attempts to provide soundscapes and evoke moods in the listener
Here we kick off with ‘Heard About You Last Night’, showcasing the delicate and restrained side of the band. It has a beautiful layered sound and I love the distant drum track along with the sound of fingers sliding up and down the guitar strings. To go along with the moods I spoke about, this is pure relaxation. Slightly less relaxed is ‘Simon Ferocious’, relying heavily on electronica. It has a bit of an uncomfortable sound but does improve with each listen. From here we come to ‘Remurdered’ which is instantly an obvious highlight. Bringing to mind Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack as well as Mogwai’s own soundtrack for Les Revenants it’s a dark, sinister beast of a track. Once the song really kicks in, just past the 3 minute mark, it really leaves you with goosebumps.
Moving on, ‘Hexon Bogon’ sees a clear shift from the more synthesised early tracks back to the layers of Mogwai guitar. Little hints of feedback are deliciously just under the surface. ‘Repelish’ has, bizarrely, a touch of Mylo’s ‘Destroy Rock n Roll’ to it with an evangelist style spoken word accompaniment over the top of a track that seems to lazily bob up and down as if drifting on waves. ‘Master Card’ is the closest you’ll get to an out-and-out rock song from Mogwai. Martin Bulloch’s drums underpin ‘Deesh’ as guitars and synth layer over the top to create a fantastic lushness that seems to build and build.
The melancholy ‘Blues Hour’ sees Stuart Braithwaite contribute some rare vocals. Stripped back, but with an almost choral feel, it almost builds to wonderful crescendo, but ultimately leaves the listener a little unsatisfied. However you can’t accuse ‘No Medicine For Regret’ of this. It’s just perfect Mogwai. The layers of guitar pick you up and sweep you away. Album closer, ‘The Lord Will Sweep You Away’ is of the same ilk. Some interesting vocoder use – I’m not a fan to be honest – but a nice tune to finish off with.
In a way, this is a bit of a strange album. You don’t actually realise how much you like it until you give it some thought. I think that’s maybe what Stuart Braithwaite was talking about when he said “I think most people are not used to having no lyrics to focus on. Lyrics are a real comfort to some people. I guess they like to sing along and when they can’t do that with us they can get a bit upset.” Once you pay attention and give the music here the listening it deserves then what we have is actually an exceptional album and a very fine start to 2014.
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