Sunday, 21 September 2008

Mogwai - The Hawk Is Howling

Mogwai - The Sun Smells Too Loud

There has always been that worry with Mogwai that the limitations of an instrumental band playing only guitars might restrict their development or ability to find new things to 'say'. How many times can you do quiet-loud-quiet-loud-quiet? The odd vocal embellishment recently hasn't added much to the brew and their last album Mr Beast was a bit of a let down so I'm glad to report that their latest is far, far better. It plays to all their strengths whilst developing their sound.

It opens with the brilliantly titled 'I'm Jim Morrison I'm Dead' a classic builder beginning with piano and adding layer upon layer of guitar, the melody developing in complexity as the song progresses whilst retaining the insistence of the central theme like a piece of classical music. The first single 'Batcat' is five minutes of heavy power chords, perfect for those who like the darker end of the spectrum. It's followed by 'Daphne And The Brain', a surprisingly tender piece which has a very filmic quality to it. It's one of many tracks which makes use of synthesisers, a recent weapon in Mogwai's arsenal which they're using to better and better effect. 'Local Authority' and 'Kings Meadow' are similarly quiet, like film underscore. 'The Sun Smells Too Loud' is another track using keyboards to great effect and easily the most upbeat on the album. Seven minutes of bouncing, almost catchy music, who knew Mogwai could do pop? 'I Love You, I'm Going To Blow Up Your School' (winner of best title) is another seven minute opus but haunting in its slow build, describing a fragile emotional state with the explosive climax you might well expect from its title. There is an air of melancholy which hangs over the album as a whole, typified by tracks like 'Scotland's Shame' and 'Thank You Space Expert'. Some may not like the fact that tracks like these never really get above second gear but there is lots of texture there. Like Sigur Ros there is plenty of joy to be had in allowing yourself to enter their soundscapes and the album closes with 'Precipice' another great example of what Mogwai do well; insistent, compelling instrumental music with plenty to say.

What I think I can hear in a lot of Mogwai's music is a quality which makes it essentially Scottish. That may sound a little ridiculous, but there is something in the melodies and sometimes the drumming that retains the sound of Scottish folk music whilst of course sounding nothing like that. I mention it only because it's one of the things that makes their post-rock stand above a lot of the other output in the same genre. There's something genuine about Mogwai which makes them worth listening to.


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