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Mogwai: Rave Tapes [Album Review]

Words by Tim Onslow.

Glaswegian mood-magicians Mogwai follow-up 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will with new LP, Rave Tapes. Produced by Mogwai and Paul Savage, this album is released on the band’s own label, Rock Action Records (although on Spunk Records in Australia).

Hitting the play button on Rave Tapes, anyone slightly familiar with Mogwai’s back catalogue would not be anticipating an electro party banger, and there is little ‘raving’ of the dilated pupil/aching jaw variety to be found here. The mood immediately evoked by opener ‘Heard About You Last Night’ speaks of the end of the night, a gliding washed-out descent back towards daylight’s terra firma. Wandering guitar and looping piano tinkles, delicate organ, day-dreaming drums. It’s a soft yet expansive intro, stirring curiosity for that which follows.

‘Simon Ferocious’ (named after the mocking epithet that Freddie Mercury bestowed upon a drunken and uninvited Sid Vicious as he hurled him out of a Queen recording session) enlivens the atmosphere slightly with robotic organs switching back and forth, a low synth fuzz and strangled electric guitar that paints a certain menace within its apparently perfunctory repetition.

‘Remurdered’ is a masterpiece of atmospheric build, sinister and involving. Reminiscent also of last year’s LP by Public Service Broadcasting, it characterises the dialogue between the analogue and the digital that fascinate Mogwai, the sound of a full and traditional rock band as orchestra interacting with multi-layered synths and all manner of digital data-dumps of ephemeral audio.

‘Repelish’ serves up a jolt to the head for two reasons: the sudden appearance of vocals, and the subject matter of these vocals. Over modestly ambient instrumentation, a voice (which sounds as though it originates from a decidedly creepy corner of YouTube) earnestly discourses upon the satanic messages infamously alleged to be found backtracked within Led Zeppelin‘s ‘Stairway To Heaven’, and other classic rock. The artistic or cultural point being made by Mogwai isn’t dwelt upon for long (unless it’s fiendishly hidden in some reverse sample of Mogwai‘s own creation!), ‘Repelish’ segues in to the defiantly rocking groove of ‘Master Card’.

Rave Tapes closes with the beautifully melancholy trio of ‘Blues Hour’, ‘No Medicine For Regret’ and ‘The Lord Is Out Of Control’, the latter a lament in vocals thickly vocodered beyond articulation, and ‘Blues Hour’ a piano-led murky dream of a song.

Remaining a much-loved and admired band now for almost 20 years, Mogwai remain fascinatingly creative within what is almost entirely their own niche, whether you term it post-rock, math-rock, cinematically instrumental indie (how’s post-prog electro-shoe-gaze work for you?). They are masters of atmospheric craftsmanship, of epically orchestral and wide-screen ambition.

Like much of their work, Rave Tapes is unlikely to gain mass commercial appeal. Definitely one for the headphones, this album would be criminally underappreciated if left to murmur to itself in the corner of a crowded room. Densely crafted and incredibly multi-layered, it deserves your patience and attention. While the Lord may be out of control, Mogwai remain firmly in command.

Rating: ★★★

Here is one of the above mentioned masterpiece’s ‘Remurdered’

Rave Tapes is released on 20th January via Spunk Records. |

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