'I Know You Are But What Am I?' asks one of the tracks on Mogwai's new album. Well, I am an intrigued music buff and you are one of the finest records of the year.
I've heard stories about Mogwai in the past, but not much about their music. The now infamous Blur bashing T- shirts, the collaboration with Gruff and Ciaian from Super Furry Animals and the fact that they are permanently on John Peel's radio show all created a buzz around Scotland's biggest post rock group, but little attention has been put on their music. Until now that is.
I came to this record hoping for some kind of Godspeed You! Black Emporer album, complete with weird artwork and massive 20 minute long songs. What I received was a short, punchy 40-minute album, complete with 4-minute tracks and pretty bland artwork. Put the CD on though, and unleashed is a record of pure brilliance.
People tell me that this record is not as good as Mogwai's earlier stuff, but I disagree- it's easily as good as 1999's sprawling 'Come On Die Young' or the slick 2001 follow up 'Rock Action' and it's easily more memorable than their legions of mini albums, EPs, singles, remix albums and all the other plastic cases with the word Mogwai on them.
Opening track and lead off single 'Hunted By A Freak' could (and should) go down as one of post rock's defining moments- the swirling atmospherics, the screeching feedback and the intense chord changes are all what make the genre so amazing, and they're all present here. Second track 'Moses? I Amn't' must win some sort of prize for it's bizarre name straight away, but listen to the track, and it's all cellos and muted synths, plus some hefty pro- tooled drums make it the sullen answer to Hunted By A Freak's inspired question.
The highlight though, comes in the shape of 'Killing All The Flies'. At a modest 4 or so minutes, it's compact (which is rare for Mogwai, or post rock for that matter) but it more than makes use of its limited running time. This is the post rock template to a tee, but the good thing about that is, the template just happens to be a very exciting and highly explosive one. Utilising the 'slow and quiet, then loud and fast' dynamic which Mogwai manage to pull off on nearly every track, the song builds around clean and pretty electric guitar riffs, before unleashing an awesome noise attack consisting of 'wall of noise' guitars, distorted, fuzzy axe thrashing and big, loud drums- it's one hell of a way to kick an album off, that's for sure.
One thing that does crop up now and again is the heavily processed vocals. The words can't be made out, but that's not the point, Mogwai see vocals as just another instrument at their disposal, another collection of sine waves to mess with and just another effect to pull off in their already massive arsenal of studio trickery. It works too, because you actually miss them when they're not present.
The only non- guitar led track on the record is the aforementioned, and achingly beautiful 'I Know You Are But What Am I?' which builds around some repetitive piano playing, and eventually soars upwards and onwards with the help of cut up drums, pretty, xylophone- esque sounds and most importantly, the lack of anything else clogging up the mix.
After some more bizarre track titles (which Mogwai excel at, trust me) and some more amazing post rock dynamics, the album ends, and you feel somewhat drained. If asked what the track titles were, I doubt you'd be able to say, or that you'd care to be honest, because 'Happy Songs For Happy People' is just that- happy, joyful, uplifting but at the same time, managing to sound raw, energised and explosive. I would write some more, but as the band say themselves, Boring Machines Disturb Sleep. Night night kiddies.