In an age where a band is often only as big as it’s hype on the Internet, few bands have been able to build such an impressive infrastructure of creative works as the Scottish rock band Mogwai. For nearly two decades, Mogwai has been relentlessly working on project after project, which has resulted in 8 full-length studio albums, multiple EPs, several film soundtracks, and even creating their own record label called Rock Action (named after The Stooges drummer). These incredible accomplishments have lead to Mogwai’s newest release, Rave Tapes, which was released on Jan 21st by Sub Pop. For a band with such a busy and fruitful past, Rave Tapes still stands out as an incredible record from a band with nothing more to prove, but a lot more to accomplish. The creativity and sonic profoundness on this record are very much cut from the typical Mogwai cloth, but without any feelings of repetitiveness or dullness.
From the leading track Heard About You Last Night, which features a synthesizer line that perpetually bounces over a slightly grizzled guitar line, you can get a very good picture of what the album has in store; intriguing guitar parts seamlessly mixed in between expertly crafted synth sounds and noticeable, minimalistic percussion (both acoustic and electronic.) Each luscious layer added creates a more delicious sound that can occupy the listener very easily. The record relies slightly less on Stuart Braithwaite’s abilities on guitar and more on finding ways to create interesting arrangements.
Rave Tapes acts as Mogwai’s most recent full length album after creating the beautiful and mysterious soundtrack for the French zombie-drama Les Revenants, which won an international Emmy for best drama series. In a 2009 in studio DJ set and interview here at Radio K, guitarist/keyboardist Barry Burns (great name) spoke a bit about working on soundtracks, as well as Mogwai’s Rock Action record label. Being able to step away from writing purposefully towards a project such as Les Revenants, Mogwai was able to focus again on music that they, as a band, wanted to make for Rave Tapes, which was recorded at their Castle Of Doom (spooky!) studio in Glasgow, Scotland.
Mogwai plays very serious music, and have a very serious stage presence, but the band itself is full of guys who enjoy lacing their media with humor. With album titles such as Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, and Happy Songs for Happy People, and songs such as Wizard Motor and The Sun Smells too Loud, it is clear that the members of Mogwai have had to get creative with the naming of their music, since so much of it doesn’t have lyrics to borrow titles from. This lyrical deprivation spawns not necessarily from a lack of vocal talent, but as guitar player Stuart Braithwaite offers in an interview with The Village Voice, “there is a big democracy about our band and to have one person at the front kind of like defeats the purpose of the band a little bit.” This consensus allows for a much less focused sound to develop, which has a better opportunity to engage the listener.
Coming in at just under 50 minutes long, each of the 10 songs on Rave Tapes is able to take you on a very unique journey. The second song, Simon Ferocious, uses a very simple formula of synth and guitar riffing to make a sound that tickles your ears and makes you feel like your whole body just received a Thai massage. Contrastingly, songs like Hoxon Bogon and Master Card are much more intense experiences that show aggression while showcasing some of the guitar Mogwai fans have come to love from Braithwaite. The last song on the record, and my personal favorite, The Lord is Out of Control, acts extremely well as the anchor, and carries with it a sense of pride for the album it finalizes. The song features prominent vocodoer vocals (only the second song on the album to have any melodic vocals) that float above a soothing guitar line and lo-fi electronic beat. With a long, satisfying exhale, you can hear the album coming to an end, in an extremely Mogwai way.
The Rave Tapes release will spawn a rigorous four-month tour spanning across Europe, Asia and North America, including a stop at First Avenue on May 18th. One can only imagine that the incredible sound of this album will transfer brilliantly to a live venue, with all of its energy and crashing, beautiful noise. Rave Tapes is further proof of Mogwai's ability to create stunning soundscapes that always surprise, and it should be fascinating to see where their love of sound takes them next.