Words About Music
Mogwai “Rave Tapes”
Before post-rock was the series of massive crescendos and instrumentation we know it as now, it was a mixed bag of a few different bands that combined darkwave, post-punk, krautrock, and the oncoming math rock and slowcore genres. Talk Talk and Slint were pretty much at the forefront of the movement, but it quickly got overtaken in the early-to-mid 90s by groups like Don Caballero, Tortoise, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the always-evolving Swans, and Scotland’s own Mogwai. Towards the end of the 90s, a ton of groups began to change post-rock and a lot of these early bands got sort of lost in the mix. Godspeed was able to adapt with their 2000 record “Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven,” and Mogwai stuck with the loud-quiet-loud formula while also experimenting, but a lot of groups like Sigur Rós and Explosions in the Sky sort of took the reins. Critics have since grown tired of the so-called “crescendo-core” formula which has resulted in sort of a resurgence in the post-rock pioneers—Slint and Godspeed have both reunited since then—and the enduring quality of groups like Mogwai.
“Rave Tapes” is the 8th album from Mogwai, and it continues in the strange direction that they’ve headed in since the release of their 1997 debut “Mogwai Young Team. They’re one of the many bands to reject the “post-rock” label which has resulted in them being very different from the bands they’re associated with. For one, they incorporate vocals sometimes, a rarity in the modern movement. Secondly, you’d be hard pressed to find one of those crescendos you hear so much about in a modern Mogwai track. Sure there are builds, atmospheric moments, and loud-quiet techniques, but those are all based on the groups they were inspired by, like My Bloody Valentine and Pixies. On “Rave Tapes,” Mogwai incorporates quite a bit of synths into the work, rarely letting themselves slip into the post-rock formula they’re so associated with.
This group has always been known for very emotional pieces, even when they write tracks with titles like “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” and “Mogwai Fear Satan.” While a lot of bands tend to get stale by their 8th release, Mogwai never let themselves get boring or insincere. “Rave Tapes” is an emotional record that, like all their albums, is incredibly well written. It’s intense and passionate like a honeymoon, but also strangely eerie, like a wedding. The album takes a turn for the weird when one of the songs, “Repelish,” features a soundbite from some interview where a person is trying to explain the Satanic subliminal messages in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” That’s probably the low point of the album for me.
Thankfully, the second half of “Rave Tapes” is total redemption. Each movement is as beautiful as the next, and the album itself is consistent without being at all redundant. The sweeping guitars and relaxing drums are completed with dark synth organs and shoegazey guitar effects. Mogwai aren’t setting out to create soundscapes like Explosions in the Sky or tell stories like Godspeed You! Black Emperor. What they’re doing is taking different influences from the 80s and toying with them to create a sound all their own, and that’s what they’ve done best ever since they formed. They even find a way to make a vocoder work, strangely enough. If you haven’t delved into the post-rock world yet, Mogwai’s discography is a great place to start because they never get boring and they always switch it up somehow. “Rave Tapes” is no exception to an awesome career, even if it’s a bit rocky at some points and the purpose for certain additions is lost on me.
SCORE – 8.2
FAVORITE TRACKS – Heard About You Last Night, Remurdered, Hexon Bogon, Master Card, Deesh, Blues Hour, No Medicine For Regret, The Lord Is Out of Control