MOGWAI – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Mogwai Official Site
What is it about Mogwai that has some music critics and post rock afficionados expecting a masterpiece every time they drop a record. Is it the fact they are that good, is it just a burden that post rock bands have to shoulder or does it have something to do with the fact that their first album, Young Team, was just that – a masterpiece? Fourteen years is a long time to be waiting for another and for sure, through their subsequent long players, Mogwai haven’t delivered it, nor even threatened to. And they haven’t with their seventh either, the streamlined Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will, though it is the closest they have come. But so what. Masterpieces aside, this is an impressive return to form for the Scottish quintet, an album that gives you the impression that Mogwai are acutely aware of the expectations on them to make sprawlingly complex compositions and have delivered a big fuck you to that.
While on the surface, a first listen through might leave you with the impression that not a great deal has changed in this area from the last two middling to good albums, The Hawk Is Howling and Mr. Beast. However, what is noticeable the more time spent with the record is the change employed to their song structures. Largely gone is the sudden explosion of crescendo as a more subtle, stealth like approach to altering the sonic landscape has been employed. Witness ‘White Noise’, ‘How To Be A Werewolf’ and You’re Lionel Richie’ as ample evidence. It’s also a more diverse album than many of its predecessors.
The post rock sound and style abound but elements of krautrock, pop, garage and post hardcore are added to the mix. Hardcore… also sees a slimmer, more taut Mogwai as each song has been trimmed of fat and sits at just the right length. With the exception of the closer, none of them exceed seven minutes. And as the brilliant photography of city shrouded in mist on the cover and inside gatefold suggests, Mogwai’s sound is as ever, urban yet organic. It broods, it pines, it cries but it also laughs – possessing a sense of humour has always being one of the band’s strong points.
Opener ‘White Noise’ begins the journey with its initially stripped back motorik opening giving way to chiming pastoral synths before the mountains of distortion kicks in. ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ constantly pulsates as synth and vocoder are used to lasting effect. It’s the closest to pop that Mogwai are going to get. ‘Rano Pano’ is a tense ride, beginning with a menacing guitar riff from Dominic Aitchison, Barry Burns and Stuart Braithwaite amped in triplicate and even quadruplicate at times with guest muso Luke Sutherland joining in. The riff continues throughout the track as synth and effects wind around it sucking it into a spiralling vortex. ‘Death Rays’ contains the element of hope in the midst adversity that has always been one of the band’s signature moves. ‘San Pedro’ is a four to the floor rocker that is completed by a huge post rock maelstrom.
‘Letters To The Metro’ is more than just a holder to fill out the middle. It’s simple piano chords and slide guitar evoke emotion and contemplation and produce a rather cathartic experience. The album’s best track also has the best track name heard for some time. ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’ packs a mighty wallop as constant synths underpin driving guitar work as the vocoder makes another appearance to awesome effect. The hypnotic ‘How To Be A Werewolf’ brings things down a notch but still keeps things kicking with its ode to the homeland while the curiously named ‘Too Raging To Cheers’ is vintage Mogwai with its descending guitar chords grinding away inexorably. ‘You’re Lionel Richie’ is hardcore’s ‘Tracy’ embedding itself in surrepticious fashion as it nestles down inside the eardrums.
The intangibles are what make Mogwai a great band. Creating another masterpiece may be beyond them, and indeed, beyond the post rock genre itself, but that is of no importance. Masterpieces in music and art in general are accidental, they are very rarely made. With each listen for whatever reason, Hardcore… gets better and better and may indeed become the record the critics have been waiting for. With all Mogwai records, time is of the essence, investment of time is what is demanded and time is what will be rewarded. Hardcore… rewards in spades and reminds us that the Scottish quintet are just as vital in 2011 as at anytime in their 15 or so year history. The genre of post rock may be in trouble, but with Mogwai still able to produce gems like this, there may be an inventive bright future after all. To all the naysayers out there tearing their hair out waiting for the mythical masterpiece…just don’t be so serious!
James Stocker – March 5, 2011.
From the album, ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’, Rock Action/Sub Pop