Mogwai – Rave Tapes
Genre: Post-rock / Instrumental
Label: Rock Action
Mogwai… Mogwai… Mogwai… Mogwai is the name of a band that is just as beautiful to listen to as it is to type the name. The Glaswegian collection are revered as one of the most important bands in post-rock worldwide and while the genre has reached an undeniably stagnant and stale stage, Mogwai still manage to cause a stir of excitement with each release: lately with their soundtrack for Les Revenants, their remix album “A Wrenched Virile Lore” and now this, “Rave Tapes”, the 2014 addition to their already healthy discography.
The first thing that becomes apparent with this release is that it feels far more thought-out, organised and generally interesting than “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will” – an album that personally left me with lukewarm feelings and slightly disgruntled thanks to the electronic vocals on George Square Thatcher Death Party and Mexican Grand Prix. The original sound and grooves that Mogwai cemented their throne with are back and “Rave Tapes” as a whole is more fluid and seems to have more direction than their last couple of releases.
Opening track Heard About You Last Night starts the album with dreamy and almost reminiscent bass/keys rhythm of Mogwai’s past ventures. Clean and softly-plucked guitar chords ring a soothing atmosphere (think the same relaxed feeling of Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross) that stops momentarily to let a synth warble alone in the atmosphere before returning, to be layered with a subtle twinkling piano. The track alone sets the standard high and you already know that this is an altogether different beast than “Hardcore Will Never Die…”.
Simon Ferocious turns to a thicker electronic tone with over and underlaying synths and keys backed by the bass, which is low but very clear in the mix. Again, you have the similar enlightened feeling you usually expect from Mogwai as the guitar kicks in, floating over it all. What strikes you is how clear every single thing contributing to this track is, and there’s a lot. It’s so easy to move your attention between the layers of synths, drums, bass, keys and all the guitars and still be aware of everything else that’s going on.
The third track Remurdered is the personal highlight of the album, feeling like a staple song for the band that will join the likes of Mogwai Fear Satan, Hunted by a Freak and I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead. The track begins with a dark and teasing synth-line and soft palm-muted chugging guitar; a bass drum begins to throb in the background and brief small injections of energy with the tattling of hi-hats and another guitar stepping forward in the mix. Then they withdraw, letting the rest of the band continue to build up the tension.
This process is repeated once again but the borders start to fray and the intruding guitar becomes more prominent and the bass drum begins to gain volume. The track – despite being the longest on the album at 6:25 minutes – manages to take just over half the song to reach its pinnacle point, but it feels so natural and earnest that you don’t notice the time passing and you can’t help but get lost in it all. Hexon Bogon is a more straightforward affair, focusing on Mogwai’s jamming side – a nice riff and overall band groove for a relatively short amount of time in comparison to all the other tracks.
However, the following song Repelish ruins the good streak. Why? Spoken word. The art of doing a track with spoken word is a tricky one: either it works or it reeks of obnoxiousness. Unfortunately the song falls into the latter. The instrumental side is actually really interesting and catchy, especially with its brash and sudden bass drum, but the self-indulgent spoken word piece about Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven and Satan is just too much to be taken seriously – it feels like that slightly arrogant person in your university lectures who voiced their opinion at any given chance. It’s a little cringeworthy.
Thankfully, the rest of the album continues on the good road: Master Card has a jaunty guitar over jamming drums, soon joined by synths swooning above it all one moment, rising and falling at others. Mogwai’s standard playful progression carries the track, as it does with the next track Deesh, a heavily electronic orientated track (the nearest to a rave you’ll get here). Blues Hour feels like the R U Still In 2 It of “Rave Tapes” with its hungover and depressed feel. The softly strummed guitar and morose piano carries the soft, melancholic vocals beautifully; it feels like a song that signals the end of one section of your life and the start of another, like the ending of a relationship.
No Medicine For Regret follows up with a similar feeling, with more focus on strings and organ, managing to keep things fresh even so near to the end of the album. The Lord Is Out Of Control suitably features the sounds of splashing tides on a beach as pulsating synths waver in the mix, soon joined by the familiar soothing guitars and electronic vocals – this time sitting comfortably in the band’s overall sound (especially with the electronic drums). If there ever was a suitable closer for the “Rave Tapes”, this is it, a sonic wave goodbye like a train leaving a station or a journey back home after a day with friends, pulling on your emotional strings a little.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, “Rave Tapes” shows that Mogwai have really upped the ante for themselves and everyone else in the post-rock genre. Admittedly my faith in Mogwai, as far as album material went, was fading with my tepid or unmoved reactions to “Hardcore Will Never Die…”, “Earth Division” and the Les Revenants soundtrack… but with this release, it has been totally rekindled and is brighter than ever. A fantastic release.