Thursday, 23 January 2014

Mogwai - Rave Tapes


With my admiration for Mogwai something at moderation, I am - like countless others, no doubt - willing to pass off any musically-unaffiliated act of the Scottish post-rock outfit, over the course of their two decade-spanning career, as relatively amusing...if, yes, baffling. I'm referring of course to the infamous Blur: are shite affair and its 2008 follow-up Blur: are shite once again; namely Blur's second-biggest (and least known) war-of-words, even if said offence in actuality was one sided from the off. It's a luxury for a band of this calibre to have perhaps-controversial moments such as these left mere footnotes on the ever-expanding portfolio that is their musical discography. Admittedly, many will look to the band's astounding 1997 debut, Mogwai Young Team, and view the five-piece as carving their own uncanny valley as the years progress. For certain, 2011's impressive return-to-form Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will still prooved there was still fire left in the highland bellies. And while post-rock, as mentioned in past reviews, has garnered a specifically foul, unappealing aroma, Mogwai are at the very least continuing in as much the same stride their debut motioned forth on. Rave Tapes may perhaps be the band's most misleading album name to date, but that doesn't mean it entirely counteracts the mood likely alluding to, of which persists across this new 10-track record. 

Rave, by good old Oxford's standards, is to talk wildly; to write with extravagant enthusiasm. As far as enthusiasm is concerned, Mogwai certainly lay down some intriguing, if not extravagant or eye-catching, variations on the post-rock formula without resorting to unfitly, predictable tropes. Heard About You Last Night kicks off with solvent keys gently dissolving into the silence of its opening monologue before the band, as they have done for some time, let the catalytic mix of guitar strums, bass picks and cymbal taps take the lead once more. There are of course the singular note plucks and mellow interludes between passages, but what ignites this piece moreso is the band's opposing focus on instrumentation - in this case, wide-screen strings and continuing key taps - rather than simply the figurative superglue ckeeping the piece together - the sturdier electric acoustics often signalling the track's archetypal climax but avoiding any predictability. Simon Ferocious, while following this same line of thought in getting the most out of a more grittier, compressed assortment of sound, doesn't unfortunately demonstrate the same level of melodic transition as the previous track. A small consolation though is that the song itself is structured rather rigidly tone-wise, and the distinct use of texture and build does still refrain from overdoing itself in regards to volume and substance. 

Remurdered is perhaps the first Mogwai track - and first perhaps of the quintet's recent catalog - that shows a distinct deviation from the norm in its focus this time on a lead of synthesizers to maintain its rhythm. But it's not just the presence of [coherent] bleeps and blips in the electronics that's impressive; rather the very toe-tapping attitude and jig to its pace that ends up, surprisingly, breathing new life into Mogwai's entire aesthetic. Yes, the sprawling guitars and droning walls of sound are persistent, but the focus lies more with what is a slower, more patient, and thus more prevalent use of electronics that both feed well into the track's percussion, but as noted, give Mogwai's sound a fondly human personality. Not that Mogwai's sound hasn't been fuelled by similarly sentient attributes as emotion and passion before; more, the middle segment of the album finds the Scots at their most consistent, even if the risk-reward benefactor isn't as evident. Nevertheless, commencing this brief segment, Hexon Bogon - like San Pedro on the last LP - is further proof Mogwai can take their once long-winding, multi-segmented noise rock attempts, and pack it into a shorter, simplified and thus more exuberant package for the listener. 

While this consistency is relatively pleasant and of a satisfactory experience, the drawback which weighs down this record - and sadly finds it struggling to capitalize on Hardcore's previous ambition - is the resurgence of the band's past bad habits regarding maintaining their listener's interest and convincing their songs are actually going somewhere. Repelish may not exactly be the first case of spoken words used in the kind of cosey, secluded, embrewing atmosphere. Yet, as is the case with the instrumentation too, there are some stank reminders of the drawbacks to an album like Come On Die Young (Mogwai's anticipated 1999 follow-up to their debut) wherein the band don't push or evolve the piece beyond its initially tentative, sensitive weight of sound. While it rests on this guest voice whom contemplates satanic messaging within Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven, the music itself falls flat in comparison; there's little dialogue or emotional reflection musically to balance - or perhaps maybe counter - what's being verbally expressed (or not being expressed). In the end, the music never really develops or progresses beyond its initially interesting early phases - an out-of-character ocurrence even if Mogwai's disposition towards enforcing dynamics keeps them in my/listeners' good-books.

Master Card at least prooves persistency and consistency don't always equate to staleness, despite the majority of the track's focus lying with the strum of an electric guitar deviating only between two or three chords. But all the while, there's enough height of activity around it in both the drums and the swirling, bodiless loft of accompaying guitars and effects bringing colour and personality to the track. Admittedly, this is a track that merely passes through and fulfills its duty, rather than leaving a mark to thus inquire further over, or simply enjoy through multiple listens. Not that what Mogwai generate isn't enticing or involving to the listener; the criticism with the band's latest effort(s) lies again in how far they seek to push the boat out in maintaining a sense of completion and all-round collectiveness. Deesh at least has its electronic wanderings and keys to enrich its approach to that of an ideal and sense of longing. And it's the presence, if not a dominance, of these synths - such as in previous tracks - that adds an element of suspense and emotion, stopping the listener from feeling all too familiar with what's peaking just around the corner or across the next crest of a wave.

In the closing stages, Mogwai's sound increases in its tension; both the music and the vocals which guide us through on a track such as the hushed, piano-anxious Blues Hour, begin to feel increasingly more hard-done or even as an outcome to something, someone, coming before. Perhaps the track's before it, perhaps not...but the very withdrawn, spacious, isolative vibes emanating from this track in particular (the echoey piano and swaying motion to the drums especially) strengthen the album's broadening of human emotion and means to carry dialogue. So while I was initially unconvinced, and perhaps dispondent to the way The Lord Is Out Of Control positioned itself and used limitting tones upon its release - a promotional release which, admittedly, didn't exactly excite or build on my anticipation - hearing it positioned in this way on the album, begins to shine some new light on how the song fits into the album's latter dialogue. With that, the track gains a fresh, and thus new look-in - the presence again of vocoders and slow-building guitars coming across less as an untested, static composite (which I'd originally perceived it as) and instead - in the context of the album - more an after-thought; a bare, distancing reflection on the eeriness and ambition finally ushering through by the record's end.

Understandable, to an extent, that we find Rave Tapes is both a culmination (in the majority of circumstances) of Mogwai's best details, but also a record that if not drastically shakes things up, at the very least makes the most of the Scottish outfit's recent surge into electronics with a continuing post-rock aesthetic. Rave Tapes is by no means a dud, but neither is one that will outshine the two major points lying at opposite end of their discography. And while there are times when Mogwai sink into mediocrity that the light gets snuffed out, there remains enough of a vast spectrum in itself of material to show the band not only know what they're doing, but are doing it at the height of their prowess. Little doubt lingers that Mogwai will remain one of but a few continuing 'old timers' of the initial post-rock craze to still keep tongues waggling, but this by no means signal the genre moving away from the knife's edge with which it stands atop - the border between revival and outright burial still tentatively close. Don't be surprised if this is an album of surprisingly lesser repeats than expected come December. But so too, more-so, don't stand shocked should newcomers attempt to live up to the exact same method of acclaim. At the end of it, two decades on, the Scots continue to remain good at what they do.
~Jordan Helm

7.0 

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