Mogwai - Rave Tapes
The band's 12th studio album is more deliberately understated than usual, if no less emotional
This article is from 2014.
When Mogwai attempt a change of style, it occurs at a pace to suit that of their music, with all the relentless, unhurried grace of a turning cruise liner. While electronics have long played some part in their sound, they’ve increasingly come to the fore in recent times, not least on 2011’s seventh and most recent album (not counting last year’s Les Revenants soundtrack), Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. The allusions to sweaty, glowstick-lit warehouse gabba orgies of Scotland’s early 90s continue here, but in more explicit fashion.
The Paul Savage-produced album starts in familiar if uncharacteristically laidback style, with the gentle wash of ‘Heard About You Last Night’, not so much a ‘rave tape’ as a comedown soundtrack staffed by Mogwai’s regularly employed contingent of reverb-heavy guitars. It’s the following ‘Simon Ferocious’ that gives an indication of how far they’ve travelled from their usual territory, and while the style isn’t an excessive departure, the sound is an evolution. It’s anything but ferocious, a mixture of contained power and stylistic reserve. The repeating riff jabs at the emotions in not atypical fashion, but the guitars have been replaced by synths and the whole thing sounds like Kraftwerk, at least until the guitars start squalling again.
‘Remurdered’ is similarly great, a fusion of the Mogwai sound and some meaty, doom-laden, John Carpenter synths, an atmospheric evocation of Cold War-era electronics that recurs on two more notable occasions throughout the record: on ‘Repelish’, a slow and moody affair that carries an extended vocal sample criticising Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ from the perspective of someone reviewing its reversed Satanic messages; and ‘Deesh’, a churning krautrock-flavoured pulse that evocatively mimics the repetition of a house beat partly retuned for analogue instruments. Elsewhere, styles are mixed up, from the angular indie rock of ‘Master Card’ to the piano balladry of ‘Blues Hour’ and ‘The Lord is Out of Control’s heavily vocodered wash. It all feels more deliberately understated than usual, if no less emotional.