Sunday, January 19, 2014

Album Review: Mogwai - Rave Tapes

Album Rating: B
It's easy to forget in 2014 that listening to Mogwai once felt like domesticating a dangerous animal. Sure this specimen was docile for the most part and carried a sense of serene worldly beauty, but its presence always brought with it an underlying tension; a realisation that at any given moment it could revert to type, wreaking havoc with its terrifying array of natural weaponry. Now, though, the beast is well and truly tamed. It can still be prone to the odd noisy temper tantrum, however, the sense of dread precursing these outbursts has long since dissipated, as have their volatility and sheer explosive power. Unfortunately, the aura and majesty surrounding the creature have faded slightly together with its destructive tendencies. These days, it simply resembles another item of furniture - still dearly beloved, yet somewhat taken for granted, and certainly missing the thrill and danger of years gone by.

Luckily, Stuart Braithwaite and company have handled this phase of musical middle-agedness with admirable panache, steering themselves into a position of marked comfort while never allowing it to flounder into one of complacency. In fact, Glasgow's premiere post rock troupe have delivered something of a masterclass in keeping the ball rolling, producing a consistent string of solid outings each carrying subtle variations so as to repel the lure of staleness. On Rave Tapes, this novel turn comes through the effectual promotion of Barry Burns, whose synth ascends to wider prominence and for the first time can be found sharing a pedestal with the usual mound of domineering riffs and effects pedals. Contrary to its title, the effect isn't quite one of pills, thrills and darting strobe lights, but this surge nevertheless adds a contemporary dimension to a sound for which texture is now firmly the emphasis.

It goes without saying that Mogwai are merely the latest in an innumerable line of established outfits who've turned to electronics for fresh inspiration, yet having already dabbled with digitalism - most notably on full-length predecessor Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will - the shift in their case is all but seamless. Take, for instance, the modular splurge which spreads its filth over the back end of 'Remurdered.' Ratting with distortion and auditory excess, it's sound is so quintessentially Mogwai it begs the question as to why its taken 19 years to surface - though as it turns out its contribution to this unnerving, groove-laden spectre is thoroughly worth the delay. 

This familiarity is not so keenly felt on 'Repelish,' a mid-album curveball where woozy Boards of Canada-like backdrops are intersected by a nonsensical spoken sample pondering 'Stairway to Heaven's infamous reverse subliminal messages. Being by no means the most subtle arrangement under the Scots' name, it's the LP's striking centrepiece and only true risk, but while its inclusion is likely to polarise the same cannot be said of closing gambit 'The Lord is Out of Control.' Led by Burns' vocorded croon, its luscious swathes capture uncharted sentiment between pure bliss and unmitigated grief, floating waywardly as though on a lake amid tranquil red sunset. It's no exaggeration to rank it among their most evocative compositions to date, and while the record doesn't always succeed on such a profound level, the continued appearance of such standouts shows the quintet's reserves of stardust are far from spent. You could argue there's a lack of velour in Rave Tapes' predominantly safe nature, but to do so would overlook the conviction in its execution, and indeed that for all their taming Mogwai remain an imposing and rewarding musical companion.


Rave Tapes is released on 20 January. You can stream the record in its entirety here.

Official website


1. Heard About You Last Night
2. Simon Ferocious
3. Remurdered
4. Hexon Bogon
5. Repelish
6. Master Card
7. Deesh
8. Blues Hour
9. No Medicine for Regret
10. The Lord is Out of Control

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