Mogwai settle down and get comfortable with the help of electronics.
Sub Pop, 2014
6.8 / 10
Scottish band Mogwai still gets lumped into the “post rock” category, for some reason. I’m not quite sure why – I guess because their songs rarely feature any lyrics at all – but there’s little in common with this band and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Swans, Explosions in the Sky, or Sigur Ros. Sure, arguing about genres taxonomy can be pointless because everything hinges on majority consent, but I think there’s something misleading about calling Mogwai “post rock” just because their music doesn’t normally have some guy singing on top of the mix. But hey, Mogwai has been around since 1995, so you probably know by now what kind of music to expect.
Rave Tapes is the follow up to 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will1, an album that I appreciated very much. Hardcore Will Never Die… featured the band at their most potent, with some chunky guitar-centric tracks drenched in distorted (“Rano Pano”, “Mexican Grand Prix”), and some ballads that rank among the band’s most beautiful work to date (“Letters to the Metro”). Since 2011, the band has released a remix album (A Wrenched Virile Lore) and a pretty good soundtrack (Les Revenants), so Rave Tapes marks the first “official” studio album2 in a couple of years.
More recently, Mogwai has slowed itself down, and in many ways, sanded down some of the rough edges present in their material from the ‘90s. Consider Rave Tapes as an evolution of that trend – after all, where else was left to go after Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will? If you answered “into the world of electronic music”, you’d be correct, and I would say that I was surprised you guessed, but really, albums without electronic rhythm sections are becoming the standard now rather than the exception. The youth and vitality of Mogwai’s past has given way to carefully constructed arrangements – there’s almost no surprising moments on Rave Tapes, even with the inclusion of electronics. There’s something to be said about a band that tries to refine itself, though, and that’s exactly what Mogwai does on this record.
The incorporation of electronics (i.e., keyboards) into Mogwai’s music makes for something that sounds like a soundtrack or score to Perfect Dark or Deus Ex. These video games are action-oriented, but they take place in the future – their scores would often involve the same kind of pseudo-futuristic music that you’d find on Rave Tapes. Unfortunately, the band falls into a mid-tempo cadence that makes everything here feel slower than it ought to be. The guitar riffs are slow, and they feel as if they plod along, and the drums never seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere. This makes Rave Tapes ideal for background music3, but not so great for something to sit down and study. Given its steady midtempo pace, the album doesn’t give much in the way of cathartic or emotional moments either.
All of this is to say that Rave Tapes is a good album, and it’s a fine progression for Mogwai. Listeners who are yearning for Mogwai to return to some of their edgier, daring material will be disappointed with the comfort this band has found. I appreciate the attention-to-detail the band displays here, but I don’t think it plays to their strengths. I’ve always thought Mogwai did a terrific job of layering noises together to make near-cacophonous masterpieces, and there’s not an echo of that present here on Rave Tapes. For a band that once challenged the boundaries of what instrumental rock music could be, this record is a safe, measured transition out of the fire and passion of their earlier work.
1. For those that argue Mogwai ought to be classified as “post rock”, this album’s title really doesn’t help my position.
2. Making this their 8th overall.
3. While this may sound like an insult, I certainly don’t intend it that way. Instead, this album makes for a great listen while you are at work and can’t divert your full attention to the music.