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"Rave Tapes"

Release date: 20 January 2014
7.5/10
Mogwai – Rave Tapes
14 January 2014, 09:30 Written by Joe Goggins
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Nearly two decades since they formed, Mogwai are nothing if not consistent. They haven’t really made a bad record, they’ve challenged their fanbase at pretty much every turn – their recent Les Revenants soundtrack providing the most recent evidence – and have maintained a delightfully keen appetite for the tongue-in-cheek, as evidenced by the title of this latest LP, Rave Tapes.

As much as they’ve rarely demonstrated much of a compatibility with bucket hats and whistles – their countless appearances at ATP indicate a greater kinship with appreciators of cardigans and thick-rimmed glasses – this record is genuinely as far as they’ve ever been from a sound that could be even remotely connected with rave culture. It’s a stormy affair, much darker than 2011’s largely upbeat Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, and seldom moves at any kind of fast pace; this is as understated a record as Mogwai have yet made.

What it does have in common with Hardcore Will Never Die, though, is a continued move away the sonic extremes that characterised the sound of their early records; the likes of “Mogwai Fear Satan” and “Like Herod”, which employed the volume equivalent of shock and awe tactics, seem a thing of the distant past at this point. Those fluctuations in loudness have given way to compositions that are at once both subtler and more complex; opener “Heard About You Last Night” is a case in point, its intricate nature unravelling itself a little more with each listen. There’s the delicate keyboard riff, the shimmering guitar that doesn’t appear until the latter stages, the slightly off-kilter percussion – the track’s considered, meticulous construction serves as a microcosm of the band’s approach to this album as a whole.

There’s a fairly obvious hangover from last year’s Les Revenants soundtrack on Rave Tapes; as far as the record’s mood is concerned, there’s some pretty clear overspill. The uninitiated might be interested to note that The Guardian, contrarian upstarts that they are, placed the French drama above Breaking Bad at the top of their end-of-year TV pile last month, and the show’s unsettling atmosphere, as a zombie story intelligent enough to play off of creeping disquiet rather than outright horror, was cultivated in no small part by Mogwai’s score. It was presumably a difficult mindset to snap out of; the band cover plenty of points on the spectrum of unease here, from the hymnal weirdness of the vocoder-heavy “The Lord Is Out of Control” to “Remurdered”‘s unbridled menace, and the cumulative effect is to mark Rave Tapes out as an anxious, tense affair.

It marks out Mogwai, too, as musicians with a sharp sense of what’s required to tap into different emotional states; some clever instrumental changes have served to evoke the appropriate tone here. Dominic Aitchison’s move towards synthesiser bass is prominent throughout, and strips the songs of some warmth that otherwise might’ve negated the record’s gloomy feel. The instrumentation on “Repelish” is mininmal, but there’s a nagging persistence to it that lends a sinister edge to the song’s spoken-word centrepiece. There are, perhaps inevitably, a few missteps too – the guitars on “Master Card” are monotonous, with little hint of melody, while “Simon Ferocious” goes on long enough for its looped synths to begin to grate.

Those problems are symptomatic, really, of the band’s aspiration to as much variety as is possible whilst still adhering to the overarching mood of the record, and they’re easy to forgive as such; you can already tell that there’s enough diversity here that these songs will lose little of their punch when peppered amongst older material in the live set. Rave Tapes doesn’t quite reach the euphoric heights of Hardcore Will Never Die, but it is an elaborate and intelligent album from a group that isn’t interested in grabbing their listeners by the scruff of their collective neck anymore; instead, today’s Mogwai are purveyors of nuance and subtlety, and fine ones at that.

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