Review: Mogwai

Rave Tapes
January 9, 2014

Rave Tapes, the eighth studio album from Scottish post-rock veterans Mogwai is a reminder that the group are still learning when it comes to electronic experimentation. Recorded in their Glaswegian ‘Castle Of Doom’ alongside producer Paul Savage, who lent his talents to 2011’s masterful Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, the album frames Mogwai’s typically expansive sound within cramped, semi-electronic textures, and ends up feeling somewhat limited.

Space and momentum have long been central facets of the Mogwai sound and there’s a little less of both on Rave Tapes. Distant and spacious guitar lines on tracks like the marching Simon Ferocious and the darker, more progressive Remurdered are relegated to the background as croaky synths flood the mix. The latter track is saved only by its relentless, twisting energy, that comes in spite of the recurring aesthetic imbalance.

Heavier cuts Hexon Bogon and Master Card more closely resemble the classic Mogwai sound, with multiple guitars singing over the top of Martin Bulloch’s rolling percussion. These songs are interspersed between tracks like Repelish, which features bizarre narration concerning Led Zeppelin’s subliminal messages in Stairway To Heaven, and the warm yet lulling Blues Hour. Halfway through the album, the lack of a consistent tone or energy is already unnerving and makes the Repelish voiceover feel even more awkward and out of place.

Watch: Mogwai – The Lord is Out of Control

Only on the tracks which bookend Rave Tapes do Mogwai achieve some kind of synergy and balance between their wide, guitar-driven soundscapes and their claustrophobic electronics. Album opener Heard About You Last Night pairs perfect, gentle guitar movements with some hauntingly cold drones and lullaby-like keyboard pulses. Closer and album highlight The Lord Is Out Of Control is a dense slow-burner with a waltzing rhythm and an inspiring series of falls and ascensions. It’s on these tracks that the guitars are given adequate space, with the electronics enhancing their warmth instead of acting as unnecessary an distraction.

Rave Tapes feels sharp compared to Mogwai’s previous release, the elegant and emotive 2013 soundtrack for French television program Les Revenants and the soundtrack’s slow ambiance is dotted throughout Rave Tapes, giving it a contemplative tone. Holistically however, the album both sounds and feels uninspired in comparison to the band’s earlier work. It flirts awkwardly with gimmicky electronics, and its brilliant moments remain few and far between.

Listen: Mogwai – Remurdered

Mogwai’s ‘Rave Tapes’ is out on Friday, 17th January and is available to pre-order now.