Produced by band “confidante” Paul Savage, who also produced 1997′s Mogwai Young Team, everyone’s favourite curmudgeonly Scottish instrumentalists Mogwai have returned with this, their 7th studio album after 2008′s The Hawk Is Howling. For a band that have been a going concern with a virtually unchanged line-up since 1995, have they still got “it” (however we might choose to class that non-specific “it”), or will age and familiarity by now have taken their toll?
Despite the title (we know by now that Mogwai titles are there more to entertain than inform, right?), much of the album finds Mogwai in a mood of calm: a kind of mellow gentleness. Beautiful opener ‘White Noise’ sets the tone with its rich, soul-enhancing tune, producing a moment of loveliness that the rest of the album struggles to match. Other tracks in a similar persuasion account for more than half of the record: see the sweet-of-melody, yet sombre ‘Death Rays’, or the laconic piano-led ‘Letters To The Metro’; the slow-burning ‘How To Be A Werewolf’ or the so-mild-it-almost-passes-you-by penultimate track ‘Too Raging To Cheers’.
‘Rano Pano’ shows a heavier side. With its static-laden guitars simultaneously providing shimmer and menace, this is a densely layered, mutating and shifting track that most closely fits the classic “post rock” label that the band struggle to escape. ‘San Pedro’ too, is a rousing rocker – possessed of driving drums and riffing guitar, though never quite hitting the dramatic peak that you keep hoping is just around the corner.
This is a problem that recurs. On ‘…Werewolf’ and ‘Too Raging..’ as well, the gentle, underplayed swells and troughs are just that bit too gentle and underplayed. As I listened I found myself longing for a real, rousing payoff – a crescendo that blew your socks off, or a stark, abrupt silence. This comes closest to happening on the album’s closer – the wonderfully named ‘You’re Lionel Richie’ – a long drawn-out track which has the time and space to ebb and flow, to cut back to a quiet acoustic section then crash back in at full throttle. Even here though, the effect is never quite as intense as you would want.
The most enjoyable moments are when the band embrace their inner kraut. ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ has a resolutely motorik beat, breathy vocodered vocals and that lovely balance between strictness of rhythm and flight-of-fancy that makes this kind of music transcendent. Best of all is ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’: fast and electronic with high mysterious voices offset by guitars; evocative, energetic, meaningful.
Undoubtedly a worthwhile listen or purchase then, this. Whilst not up there with the highest points of this extraordinary band’s career it is nevertheless a better crafted, more emotionally coherent offering than you would find from many a younger instrumental / ambient / “post rock” band, and one that definitely merits a place in their canon.