Scottish quintet, prog-pioneers, and wall of sound masons Mogwai are well-known for flippancy. In an interview with Altmusic following the release of The Hawk is Howling in 2008, guitarist Stuart Braithwaite claimed they ‘just wanted to record ten good songs. There wasn’t really any specifics at all. Any time we have had aims at the beginning, it’s normally just backfired, horribly’. Although the dour realism of Braithwait’s intentions can’t be doubted, what can is his use of ‘good’. The Hawk is Howling is characteristically dark, sonically sparse and above all fantastic. Their eighth full length offering, Rave Tapes, exhibits such qualities in equal measure, plumbing the depths of emotional instrumentation in a manner completely at odds with their faulty self-image.
The album opens with a song called “Heard About You Last Night”. As with most of Mogwai’s beginnings it is gentle – a possibly discordant steel drum chime soothing the way for the pulsating beat that follows. Once this has subsided, “Simon Ferocious” kicks in with an almost-hummable, definitely distorted synth line. The effect is mesmerising, as the electronics flit around the entire polyphonic spectrum and drums and guitar rise and fall out of earshot almost independently of one another.
As a whole, the album tracks a beautiful progression, starting with a newly perfected Deerhoof–Holy Fuck-electronic feel and climaxing with the Sonic Youth-reminiscent noise rock that earned them their stripes. The exception is the album closer, “The Lord is Out of Control”, which piles on dreamy synths and robotic vocals, acting as a parting wave between the closing curtains.
To add to the musical mastery of the album, Mogwai have worked in some normative brilliance with track names like “Hexon Bogon” and “Remurdered”. As lexically enticing as they are and as much as they suggest half-glimpsed anecdotes and something philosophical, the album works best free of imputed meaning. It is a musically raw work of the highest quality that should push the listener into a sweetly scented, darkened room rather than onto wikipedia.
Realistically, Mogwai Young Team will likely remain in the centre of die hard fans’ hearts, yet Rave Tapes is somehow better. Whilst characteristically full of bubbling energy, the band have finally broken away from the quiet-loud dynamic that has at points translated as uncomfortable tension. The feeling here is less one of foot-tapping caffeine buzz and more half-awake dreaminess. It is somehow both challenging and comfortable at the same time.By Milo Boyd