Zachary Cole Smith has overcome a multitude of problems to make this intensely powerful album
Mogwai - 'Rave Tapes'
They're not as anarchic at they once were, but the Glaswegians have found plenty more crescendos to climb
Rave Tapes Rock Action
Perhaps it’s inevitable, for a group who’ve carved such a long and unbroken furrow, but almost 19 years on from their foundation, Mogwai seem to be approaching a sort of national treasure status: they are where you look first if you’re after some undulating, affecting, occasionally extremely loud instrumental rock. Personally, I can’t wholly shake a lingering disappointment that their anarchic edge has blunted over time – watching them reduce a room full of Manic Street Preachers fans to tearful, pint-tossing anger with a demented ‘Like Herod’ is up there in fond concert-going memories. But it’s true their finest late-period work is that which highlights their reflective, poignant side: take their score for French undead drama Les Revenants, a masterful explication of the show’s uncanny melding of love, grief and terror.
From the get-go, ‘Rave Tapes’ hits some familiar Mogwai buttons. Flippant, faintly amusing titles (‘Simon Ferocious’, ‘Master Card’) are slightly deceptive signposts to a number of intricate, layered, largely wordless rock songs that paint complex emotional pictures. There is, however, evidence here of a lean towards electronics, which is key to some standout moments. ‘Remurdered’ broods and glowers for three minutes before springing into life on a baroque synth filigree that recalls Italian horror soundtrackers Goblin. ‘The Lord Is Out Of Control’ employs Vocoder and electronic drums for a melancholy waltz more serene than its title implies. ‘Master Card’ is, essentially, Shellac with keyboards.
Elsewhere, familiarity begins to nag. Mogwai might have outgrown a fledgling reliance on quiet-loud dynamics, but this has been replaced by a different sort of predictability: occasional moments of padding like ‘No Medicine For Regret’ or ‘Deesh’ doodle away for ages without evoking anything in particular.
Consequently, ‘Rave Tapes’ feels most compelling when they imprint some kind of message on their moody abstractions. ‘Repelish’ unfurls to a voiceover from Lee Cohen (a singer from Chicago who was also on Mogwai’s ‘Stanley Kubrick’), a simmering tension building as he considers the Satanic messages implanted in reverse on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’. The Stuart Braithwaite-sung ‘Blues Hour’, meanwhile, is a slowcore ballad that speaks of distant horizons and mighty endurance. ‘Rave Tapes’ doesn’t stray far from the Mogwai comfort zone, but nor is it the sound of a band clapped out. Nineteen years in, there are still crescendos left to climb.
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