Album Review: Mogwai-Rave Tapes

Does…does this album even need to be reviewed? I mean…c’mon people! It’s a brand new Mogwai album! As in the Scottish group that made instrumental music exciting again! How can it be physically possible, humanly even, to not rave about Mogwai? The album is fucking called ‘Rave Tapes’!

Okay, if you must know, this album rules so hard, it’s difficult to know where to begin. The rolling textures, the sharp, knifey melodies, the introduction of more unnerving electricity into their work? Mogwai have always been a moody band, but they usually build up their songs to epic proportions. On ‘Rave Tapes’, things are almost constantly kept subdued, humming at a menacing level, like the world’s most attractive mosquito.

On this album, it feels as though the band haven’t had anything extreme happen to them personally, but they’re reflecting on more worldly issues. The music incorporates more forward, electronic dynamics that push the album in a straight, focused line. Its always buzzing, seething, but never blows up or exasperates itself. Anyone who’s been a teenager can connect with that feeling, of being so mad that you feel like its more effective if you silently pray for your offenders’ demise than directly attack them. If anything, ‘Rave Tapes’ is the ultimate passive-agressive soundtrack. Forget your go-to Metallica/Marilyn Manson/Slipknot loud-fests that are basically torture screams over guitars. You want something that actually broods and speaks to your inner angst? Listen to this album on repeat.

On a more specific level, the songs of ‘Rave Tapes’ are, unsurprisingly, interesting as fuck. Like, more interesting than a chat in an opium den with Einstein, the Dalai Lama and Jim Morrison. The album is unbelievably textured, shifting between a million emotional paradigms. At one point, ‘Hexon Bogon’, which features tumultuous feedback undercutting dilapidating piano strokes, gives a vulnerable side to Mogwai. And then, a couple songs later, ‘Master Card’ provides a re-strengthend, thought-provoking journey with a thrusting, aggressive guitar part whilst synth waves shake the song to its core.

But, as usual for Mogwai albums, the most memorable moments of ‘Rave Tapes’ come from the more epic and sinister parts of the album. It’s just what the band do best. ‘Remurdered’, is the first taste of the album (and most brutal overall) where we get to hear some cynical musical savagery. As if the title wasn’t enough, the song itself plays out like a climactic scene of a gory Cormac McCarthy novel. At the beginning, the lighter key parts hint at some sort of bullshit happy discovery scenario. But as the song delves further into its six and a half minute run-time, the gruesome nature of the track reveals itself bit by bit. Seriously, if someone were to make a remake of Se7en, just have ‘Remurdered’ be the score. The heavy, scrambling notes that appear about halfway through the track are both primal and futuristic, like Blade Runner, if Harrison Ford were played by a Neanderthal.

Likewise, the track ‘Deesh’ stands out for its significantly villainous overtones that, although cut with some hopeful synths, bring the mood to a thoroughly bleak outlook. Even the closer of ‘The Lord Is Out of Control’, a track that was probably inspired in some part by the work of Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized, holds a certain darkness to it. The organ rings and robot-filtered vocals bring the song, and encapsulate the album’s overall vibe, of being the sort of future that is run by a Skynet programmed by the Westboro Baptists Church. Hell, maybe there’s actually a whole Terminator thing going on, and this is the only way the guys from Mogwai know how to warn us simple mortals.

‘Rave Tapes’ is not Mogwai’s best work. That being said, it’s not their worst either. It’s in a beautiful middle ground, very similar to 2003’s ‘Happy Music for Happy People’. Its minimalistic approach (for Mogwai, anyway) is different but for a mostly positive effect. But, despite the connotations of the title, ‘Rave Tapes’ is a pretty shy work. It never wants to point the finger, and rarely retreats out of the framework to give off the signature epic Mogwai blasts of emotion. Nonetheless, ‘Rave Tapes’ is accomplished, well-produced, and is more conceptual and resonating than 9/10 modern albums. And all this from a band that say nearly fuck all.

If you’re keen, (as you very well should be) you can hear an exclusive stream of the album here on The Guardian’s website, right here. ‘Rave Tapes’ comes out on the 17th of January, via Sub Pop/Rock Action/Spunk Records.

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