June 13, 2003
Mogwai : Happy Songs For Happy People
Post-rockers turn down the volume to reveal a work of staggering beauty
8 / 10
When Mogwai were first dragged kicking and screaming onto the music scene, people feared them for their eardrum-shredding bursts of noise. Recent rumours, however, have suggested a 'quieter, electronic direction'. This usually means that your favourite noise-wielders have lost their edge, going cold turkey in the tunes department while journalists reacquaint themselves with complex adjectives such as 'cerebral', 'challenging' and 'dogshit'.
So, is this fourth LP really the sound of the Scottish sound-sculptors going soft on us? Hardly. 'Happy...' is filled with paranoid song titles and a defiant refusal to compromise artistically. It tweaks the hushed blueprint of 2001's 'Rock Action' LP and the result is their most intriguing, beautiful and dazzling record to date.
'Kids Will Be Skeletons' is a good indication of where their post-rockin' heads are at. Melodies weave around a brewing fuzz-storm whilst chords collide and the whole thing slips in and out of consciousness like Slint having a rather nice wet dream. Elsewhere, 'Hunted By A Freak' and 'Killing All The Flies' weld lush electronic passages onto spiraling guitars whereas 'I Know You Are But What Am I?' sees digital beats cascading around lonely piano stabs.
It's often complex, but this isn't over-studied music that appeals only to people with a PhD in Beards. Mogwai aren't the sort of band to harp on about how they achieved a neat atonal effect by restringing their guitars with Jim O'Rourke's pubic hair. In fact, their melodies are often as simple as nursery rhymes because this what works best emotionally. Even when they do rock out and bully the FX pedal marked 'JesusChristThatHurts', the sonic peaks are woven into the fabric of the music rather than left to leap out at you.
By the time 'Stop Coming To My House' erupts, like Sigur Ros being buried beneath their own iceberg, you realise that Mogwai are special. They have that ability to experiment wilfully, yet still appeal to an audience beyond three beret-wearing twats down in Hoxton. Most importantly, they're still striving to recreate the beautiful sounds that bounce around their brains. And until they really do mellow out and release their 'Blur: Aren't Actually That Bad After All' clothing range, we're in for an increasingly thrilling ride.
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