Release Date: Jan 21, 2014
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
On Mogwai's eighth studio album, Rave Tapes, the self-described guitar army have finally dialed down their six-string sound, making for a more analog-driven LP. It's a fitting title for a record that takes its name from the ecstasy-fueled counterculture and accompanying cassettes that dominated the British music scene in the early '90s. Stepping away from the LOUD-quiet-LOUD dynamics of the band's distortion-friendly roots, Rave Tapes finds the Scottish slowcore outfit exploring their most expansive audio landscape to date, thanks in part to longtime multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns' insistence on bringing his new modular synthesizer into the recording sessions.
Since they exploded (brutally, then gently, then brutally again) onto the scene in 1997 with Mogwai Young Team, Mogwai have outgrown the post-rock label they were initially daubed with. Those taking the title of the band’s latest album at face value should be warned; Mogwai has not turned towards dance sounds for this release. Depending on what you want from them, this may come as a disappointment.
"It’s difficult not to hear at least a fleeting ghost of rave within 'Rave Tapes'. " Although Mogwai album titles should never be taken too literally, it’s difficult not to hear at least a fleeting ghost of rave within this, their eighth full-length. Certainly, tempos are for the most part more upbeat and flourishes of arpeggiated synth colour several tracks.
Since their inception, Mogwai have managed to exist as both a gold standard for instrumetal aficionados as well as a testimony to the importance of the spaces between sounds as something of a high art. And whatever either of those descriptive generalities might mean is most assuredly in the ears of the listener. So for a group whose eighth studio album evolves their own post-rock, no-vox muses, as Mogwai does on their chilled-out collection Rave Tapes, the tandem experience between listener and creator is ever-present, and far from ignorable.
The future may have sounded like Rave Tapes thirty years ago. As a child, I remember being entranced by the now-primitive notion of the future, which was often an electrifying and colorfully robust world that was heavily populated by robotics, circuitry and infinite possibilities. I do also remember, though, witnessing this utopia’s antithesis, a world overrun by machines or somehow traumatized by the society’s inevitable loss of human connectedness.
Mogwai's reputation these days is as much for restraint as ear-pummelling volume; last year's soundtrack for French drama The Returned was full of subtle, slow-build tension. Nevertheless, their eighth album proper is clearly designed to be played very loud indeed; the tension here comes from the interplay of taut structure and fierce bursts of noise. Hexon Bogon has the feel of a contained explosion, distorted guitar ricocheting off reinforced walls of drums, while hulking riffs lock like tectonic plates on Master Card.
‘Rave Tapes’ is Mogwai’s eighth long player. Eight. That they are now elder statesmen of post-rock seems to be a position that suits them well: ‘Rave Tapes’ may not see them moving too far from their widescreen template but it’s an assured record that sees them draw from right across their rich palette of textures.Yet, part of the appeal and also part of the problem of a new Mogwai release is that you know, in essence, what you’ll be hearing.
Say what you like about miserable post-rock bands who enjoyed moderate success in the early noughties, but they aren't half reliable. Mogwai, those consistent providers of dirge and delicate depression, have made an excellent follow up to 2011's Hardcore Will Never Die, on which they seem to be recalling a rave of sorts. It begins with the tauntingly titled Heard About You Last Night – a disconcertingly blissful dreamscape evoking the moments before the bludgeoning regret from the night before storms in.
Nearly two decades since they formed, Mogwai are nothing if not consistent. They haven’t really made a bad record, they’ve challenged their fanbase at pretty much every turn – their recent Les Revenants soundtrack providing the most recent evidence – and have maintained a delightfully keen appetite for the tongue-in-cheek, as evidenced by the title of this latest LP, Rave Tapes. As much as they’ve rarely demonstrated much of a compatibility with bucket hats and whistles – their countless appearances at ATP indicate a greater kinship with appreciators of cardigans and thick-rimmed glasses – this record is genuinely as far as they’ve ever been from a sound that could be even remotely connected with rave culture.
Last time we had heard from Mogwai, they had released a solid record with 2011’s most badass album title Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. Hardcore Will Never Die had the Glasgow quartet bringing more electronic hardware into their sound and Rave Tapes is the next step in Mogwai’s evolution. Instead of post-rock augmented by synths, Rave Tapes sounds like Air’s Talkie Walkie mixed with Explosions in the Sky’s The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place.
MogwaiRave Tapes Rock ActionPerhaps it’s inevitable, for a group who’ve carved such a long and unbroken furrow, but almost 19 years on from their foundation, Mogwai seem to be approaching a sort of national treasure status: they are where you look first if you’re after some undulating, affecting, occasionally extremely loud instrumental rock. Personally, I can’t wholly shake a lingering disappointment that their anarchic edge has blunted over time – watching them reduce a room full of Manic Street Preachers fans to tearful, pint-tossing anger with a demented ‘Like Herod’ is up there in fond concert-going memories. But it’s true their finest late-period work is that which highlights their reflective, poignant side: take their score for French undead drama Les Revenants, a masterful explication of the show’s uncanny melding of love, grief and terror.
During the time they were making Rave Tapes, Mogwai's flair for soundtracks was being celebrated: the band began 2013 with the release of their brilliant score for Les Revenants, the cryptic French TV show about the undead, and they were just about to play a series of performances of their music for Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait as accompaniment to the movie. All this film-related activity may have inspired Rave Tapes' restraint (the fact that the band had a narrow window of time in which to record the album probably contributed to it as well). For much of the album, Mogwai trades majesty for economy, focusing on a few motifs that they combine and recombine in an almost modular fashion.
As ever with Mogwai, we shouldn’t read into the name. Sure, the title Rave Tapes might hint at a departure for the Scottish five-piece, their backs turned on the furrow of dense and misanthropic post-rock that they’ve ploughed for nearly two decades, exchanged instead for glowsticks flailing wildly in the air, but we’ve learnt by now not to take them on their words. Their words, as the band’s song titles have been demonstrating for years, don’t really mean anything.
Few Nineties rock bands were better prepared than Mogwai for the movie-trilogy blocks of music allowed by the iPod. Over the past 18 years, the Scottish outfit moved from making bombastic explosions in the sky to crafting widescreen soundtracks to goin' down the road feeling bad. On their eighth album, they go with what they know, from childlike keyboard melodies anchoring guitar swells("Simon Ferocious," "Deesh") and nod-off piano mumbles ("Blues Hour") to robotic riff-welding ("Master Card") and piss-taking ("Repelish," wherein they remind us that people were once actually scared of Led Zeppelin).
In 2014 I've found myself - sometimes by choice, more often by assignment - re-engaging with the sort of exploratory post-rock bands on the front lines of the first wave of music I liked growing up that could be described as "worthwhile" or "cool." New Silver Mt. Zion, a recent trip to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor, now Mogwai: it's like a refresher course in contrast, dynamics, all that LOUD-quiet-LOUD Steve Albini stuff. More than a decade out from the band's shift into electronic music and their reinvention as what at times seems to be a soundtrack band, it's hard to tell if Mogwai have aged well or just sort of boringly mellowed.
Mogwai operate in a small space, where change decelerates into their music in lightly perceptible ways. Rave Tapes, the band's eighth album outside of their soundtrack and remix work, has been built up for its increased use of electronics, with a debt partially owed to the vintage synth scores that have held a sustained (and seemingly ever-increasing) influence over a huge swathe of underground artists. The first song to be released from the album, "Remurdered", certainly hinted that analog sounds would form a more rigorous backbone to their music than before, although they've been dabbling in this area since Rock Action in 2001.
If Godspeed You! Black Emperor are the enigmatic and volatile wildcards of first-gen post-rock, Mogwai will likely stand as the genre’s last immobile pillar. Check back in with these Scots in ten years; odds are they’ll still be cranking through the same foggy riffs, still droning out melancholy vocals, still loping over the same modest crescendos. Mogwai are a mountain range.
Sadly, post-rock heroes Mogwai continue to plod along by either replicating their former triumphs in a less effective, less effecting, and generally sheeny-shinier manner or by loafing around with the cack-handed utilization of "progressive" electronic elements. In the latter category, "Remurdered" sees the band half-heartedly fumbling for a new direction down the back of Errors' couch while listening to Kraftwerk. Later, the gloomy guitar tones of "Deesh" are swamped by soulless synth chords.
A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened– Albert Camus, quoted in the gatefold to Scott 4 So, Mogwai walks into the same bar he’s been going to for 10 years, but there’s a big difference: he’s wearing a new suit. It’s kinda shiny. Looks expensive.
Mogwai’s newest offering, Rave Tapes, is a brooding masterpiece of a record. Its sonic swells and blacked out synths reveal an underbelly of maddening emotions hidden beneath the polished production. Reflecting the sadness of the past with little hope for the future, the tracks pound along in a minor key haze that manages to sedate and exhilarate at the same time.
Mogwai — Rave Tapes (Sub Pop)There was a definitely a time when calling Mogwai a subtle band would have gotten you some odd looks. Even leaving things like “Blur: Are Shite” and the Jim Morrison t-shirt aside, this is a band whose debut album included a 16-minute conclusion entitled “Mogwai Fear Satan” and who have often sounded like they were trying to replicate several different types of explosions in the medium of guitar. True to form, 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Mogwai’s titles often being funny and/or piss-taking in addition to lacking subtlety) was a bright, bold album that was among the band’s most immediately gripping and pleasing work.
Sometimes all it takes is the right snare, and you’re away – and 52 seconds into this album there it is. It’s not even a particularly unusual snare, and it’s certainly not extreme or distorted. But it really is the right snare: it spanks so crisply against the wobbly chimes and electric piano that form the intro to ‘Heard About you Last Night’ that you just know that Mogwai are onto something good.
Satan aside, it seems like Mogwai's current fear is a slack work ethic. Last year, as well as revisiting their soundtrack to Zidane for a run of live performances, they released their soundtrack to the French zombie drama Les Revenants, and now, less than 12 months down the line, out of the Castle Of Doom emerges their eighth studio album, the concise, eclectic and characteristically misleadingly-titled Rave Tapes. In places, it's a record that surveys and refines their back catalogue.
Nothing can mellow a band quite like time. Nearly two decades into pushing various iterations of intensely sprawling post-rock instrumentals, Mogwai has both flirted with and rebelled against the measured calm of experience and age—increasingly exploring quieter, reflective tones in numerous soundtrack scores since 2006, but lashing back at any presumption of dulled edges with 2011’s relatively raw and heavy Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. Having thus proven it can still get raucous and aggressive, the Scottish quintet has reapplied itself to softer textures and ethereal atmospheres on the complex, mature Rave Tapes.