First Look: New Mogwai Album

 

“Going to be one
of 2011’s best albums, AutoTune and pop melodies and all”:  
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is released by Sub Pop on Feb. 15.

 

By Jennifer Kelly

A lot of critics didn’t like Mogwai’s last studio album, The Hawk Is Howling.  Complaints were loudest about the band’s
excursions into the lighter, sunnier electro kinds of sounds best typified by
“The Sun Smells Too Loud,” but there was a sense that even blistering “Batcat”
was an approximation of glories past. Myself, I liked Hawk immediately and found it growing on me over time. I couldn’t
find anything false in “Batcat;” even after a dozen listens, it sounded
authentically obliterating and raw. The tunefulness of “The Sun Smells Too
Loud,” struck me as an interesting divergence, one that maybe indicated an
escape route from Mogwai’s opposite-merging, dynamic-shifting monumentality, if
it should ever grew stale.

 

After Hawk, with a 2010 tour
and the live Special Moves, Mogwai
seemed to retreat to its core, the alternatingly lyrical and bludgeoning
atmospherics of guitar, effects and keyboards that have defined the band since
its beginnings. Special Moves made
the case for continuity, linking “C.O.D.Y”‘s wistful melancholy to the
slow-blooming moodiness of “I Love You, I’m Going to Blow Up Your School.” If Hawk hinted at restlessness, Special Moves was a reaffirmation of
history, a summation, a band revisiting its roots.

 

It was also, apparently, a one-time deal. With Hardcore Will Never Die, But
You Will
, Mogwai is again aggressively tweaking its formula in ways that
will offend purists, but which may be necessary if this band is to continue to
satisfy its own curiosity and requirements for growth. The album starts in a
shimmer and haze, in light-filled, slow motion “White Noise” which might sound
like classic Mogwai if it were not so much brighter. The guitar effects seem
less like murk and turmoil, more like the blinding glare off surfaces in sun. There’s
a transparency here, a sense of space and separation that continues,
particularly through the first half of the album. It winds through buzzing,
droning, pitch-shifting “Mexican Grand Prix,” as close to pop as Mogwai has
ever been, and distortion-bleached, drum battered “Rano Pano,” and
translucently beautiful “Death Rays.” Even “George Square Thatcher Death Party”
which sounds very much in the fuzz-crusted, over-driven vein of “Batcat” and
“Glasgow Megasnake”, incorporates the wavery robotics of pitch shifted vocals
that bring it back to pop. A sense of play and melody leavens the heaviness in
this seventh Mogwai album, especially near the front end, and if that’s not
what you want out of the band, too bad, that’s what they’re doing now.   

 

Or, you could just wait it out for the back end of Hardcore, where, starting with about
“San Pedro,” the music begins to cleave more closely to the loud-soft,
massively heavy template that you expect from Mogwai.  Late album cuts like “How To Be a Werewolf”
grow steadily out of quiet beginnings, not changing so much as expanding, the
ending louder, more layered and more exhilarating than the start. And “You’re
Lionel Ritchie” which closes things out, incorporates speech samples into
languid beginnings in a way that recalls “I Choose Horses” from Mr. Beast. It’s
the kind of piece that undulates, building up then dying back to almost nothing
then roaring back in a firestorm, and if you don’t like the new, poppier  Mogwai, heard up front in this album, you
will certainly like the old one, still ponderous, ear-shattering and
magnificent.

 

Sometimes you have to set your expectations aside, going with what’s
on the disc, rather than what history and experience tell you should be
there.  Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is going to be one of 2011’s
best albums, AutoTune and pop melodies and all. 

 

 

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