Release Date: Feb 26, 2013
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Soundtrack, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Film and television scores can feel like a letdown on record – incoherent without the accompanying images, or outed as a cheap trick to make you cry. Mogwai's music for the extraordinary football movie Zidane was an exception, and their soundtrack for supernatural French drama The Returned is just as good; no less absorbing whether you encounter it through headphones or on TV. Spare, carefully textured pieces for piano, guitar and drums unfurl slowly, summoning a mood that shifts between sadness and unease.
Les Revenants ("the ones who came back") is better known in the UK as The Returned, the subtitled French television series which has been chilling us to the bone every Sunday night lately. It concerns a group of dead individuals who return – not as archetypal zombies, but seemingly exactly as they were – to live in their former communities. Gradually, though, things start to unravel, the creeping unease bolstered brilliantly by this sinister Mogwai score.
They keep you waiting this Mogwai lot. It’s been seven years since their last soundtrack, to the 2006 documentary Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, and the band follow a similar musical thread for Les Revenants. The opening cue hints a little at things to come, but things get interesting on the following track, Jaguar. Here we’re treated to an engaging bass piano melody, and subtle arrangement with reversed noises and throbs; it’s deceptively simple but works well.
Ever since the stunning scene in 28 Days Later when Cillian Murphy's character wakes to find London transformed into a wasteland set to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's "East Hastings," post-rock and zombies have gone hand in rotting hand, and with good reason: the style's mix of dramatic dynamics and poignant melodies conveys the massive dread and shock of living in a world where the dead walk the earth. Mogwai, who have explored death and horror imagery in their music since the beginning and have written scores to Zidane and Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, were long overdue to write music for a project like Les Revenants, their score for the French TV series based on the 2004 film of the same name. In the show, the dead rise from their graves, but the world doesn't end and panic doesn't necessarily ensue (immediately, anyway).
Of all the many post-rock bands whose music has been described as the 'soundtrack to a movie-never-made' how many have truly embraced the challenge of soundtrack work? That’s to say: putting aside your ego and putting yourself in the service of someone else’s narrative and images, in a dynamic interplay of meaning that ideally enhances both…? It’s not hard to see the soundtrack as a catalyst for creativity – a format with endless potential and lowered expectations – but who meets that challenge? Sigur Ros are second only to Mogwai for appearances on adverts, soundtracks, and UK drama, but their original compositions for film are mostly dull. GY!BE must have wrung their anarcho-syndicalist hands a while before permitting one of their soundtracks-to-the-apocalypse to… soundtrack the apocalypse. Explosions in the Sky re-jigged their most romantic moment for Friday Night Lights, but under-performed on The Rescue.
To get a job for French television, it helps when you’ve written the soundtrack to a seminal documentary on the country’s greatest footballer, Zinédine Zidane. Indeed, this secured Mogwai’s chance to switch to the smaller screen and provide the soundtrack for Canal Plus’ new zombie thriller, Les Revenants (or ‘Ghosts’). While nowadays one cannot move without something to do with zombies or supernatural beings being shown on screen, Les Revenants sounds much more interesting and original: a cross between Village Of The Damned, Twin Peaks and Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon.
"Les Revenants" ("the ones who came back"), a French TV program for which Mogwai provides the soundtrack, is a gorgeously subtle, harrowing drama that explores the reality of loved ones returning from the grave. These "zombies" aren't grisly maniacs hungry for flesh, but humans in their pre-death state who return to their tiny community, a twin town to Twin Peaks nestled in the crook of some mountains and swaddled in perpetual night, as if they'd just popped out for air. The soundtrack album Les Revenants contains not a shred of the terror Mogwai is capable of wreaking, and it works terrifically-- it rarely comes off overly dramatic or leading, and matches the unsettling feel of the show.
Back in February this year, composer Clint Mansell told London's The Guardian that film scores and post-rock were becoming interchangeable. If this is the case then perhaps it's fitting that Mogwai—whom Mansell cited as an influence—have recorded the soundtrack to new French zombie TV drama Les Revenants ("They Came Back" seems to be the most popular English approximation). .
Most rock bands don’t wind up doing scoring work; when they do, that work doesn’t necessarily get released. Not Mogwai. This is its third soundtrack album, after the 2006 releases, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait and The Fountain: Music from the Motion Picture. But Les Revenants feels different.Zidane, after all, was put together on fairly short notice and partially improvised, and The Fountain had the band augmenting the work of Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet.
Consequence of Sound’s David Buchanan first uncovered the aesthetic similarities between Mogwai and filmmaker David Lynch during 2008’s The Hawk Is Howling LP. So, when it was announced that the five-piece would be scoring France’s Les Revenants television program – a series heralded as a Lynchian take on a zombie apocalypse — expectations were deservedly lofty. Composed prior to the series’ production, the aural work of Mogwai was a catalyst for the dark ambiance of the visual work, not a reactionary composition to peak viewer interests during zombie attacks or moments of character introspection.
Can you preface an album review with a spoiler alert? In this instance the review is for the soundtrack to a TV series, a medium where people go absolutely nuts if you reveal even the smallest plot detail before they've seen it, so it seems fitting. So here goes – if you are a serious fan of Mogwai, go and buy this album and don't read anything about it before you do. Go.
The French undead inspire another very much alive Mogwai album. Daniel Ross 2013 The last time Mogwai recorded a soundtrack album was in 2006, when a film about French footballer Zinedine Zidane was given a touch of the band's signature creeping murk. While the album was a typical triumph, the film itself was perhaps a more incongruous source of inspiration for the band than usual – which isn't to say it didn't work.
So strongly can Mogwai’s best music conjure images, colours, scenes and movement in the mind of the listener that it’s no surprise they’ve done their share of movie soundtrack work. But whereas their previous dalliances in the field were to provide sonic accompaniment to a film about a footballer (Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait) and a romantic drama starring Rachel Weisz (The Fountain), Les Revenants marks the first time where the subject matter of the on screen material seems, from a cursory glance at the plot summary, quite so perfectly suited to the eeriness and restrained terror for which Mogwai remain renowned. Les Revenants (or They Came Back, as it’s being called in English) is a French television drama in which a number of people presumed dead all of a sudden reappear in their remote mountain village, not able to recall what’s happened to them, and not having aged since their deaths.
With nearly two decades looming as a behemoth over British post-rock, Mogwai’s place in the lexicon of our nation’s music is assured, frequently wielding a power with grace most other bands would be fortunate to capture even graspingly. No strangers to composing a score, Mogwai had already crafted the soundtrack to a loving feature film portrait of enigmatic French footballer, Zidane, when they were invited to write the score for upcoming French drama series, Les Revenants. The story takes a unique perspective on the zombie stories of popular fame, by imagining the rehabilitation of the walking dead, who pose no threat or danger.