Mogwai, Rave Tapes

Mogwai, <i>Rave Tapes</i>

It was about four tracks into Scottish postrock quintet Mogwai’s most recent release, Rave Tapes, when it hits me: the mainstream has passed the band by.

No, scratch that; the mainstream hasn’t zoomed past Mogwai, but rather has swallowed the band whole, subsuming their sound making it, well, mainstream. Not to mainstream radio, mind you, but to the other chunk of mainstream mass-culture, TV and movies.

See, there’s not a single track on here that wouldn’t sound out-of-place as mood music to some new supernatural/sci-fi teen drama on the CW, or in the quieter moments of some relatively-recent near-future sci-fi thriller movie. It’s dark and murky, edged with uncertainty even when it’s cheerful, like on the fuzzy-sided, rumbling, synth-heavy “Simon Ferocious,” and when it’s not on the brighter side, it’s fraught with tension and menace (see the aptly-entitled “Remurdered,” for one example). That all means it’s damn near perfect soundtrack material.

I’m not meaning this as any kind of slight, mind you — the band’s had a seriously cinematic, soundtrack-like bent for the entirety of its career, and they do it well. I’m just intrigued by the fact that the band’s overall sound, that dark, foreboding, mostly-instrumental rock that always seems deliberate, somehow, complex without being overbearing about it, has become essentially a norm; part of me wants to congratulate the band, for managing to craft music that’s turned slowly into the standard soundtrack for anything that involves capital-D Drama.

At the same time, though, another part of me is worried. Worried because while I do like Rave Tapes quite a bit, the album sure sounds like a lot of Mogwai’s previous albums. That dark, quasi-menacing instrumental sound hasn’t changed much lately, and while I like it generally, I worry that the band’s become trapped in their own subgenre of music.

That said, I’ll freely admit that there are far more synths on here — synths of the crunchy, overfuzzed, analog kind, which is always cool by me — than on other Mogwai albums I’ve heard, so there’s that in terms of musical evolution. And as “The Lord Is Out of Control”‘s robot-vocalized synth glory amply demonstrates, the band certainly knows what it’s doing.

Similarly, there are several points here, particularly on the vocals-having “Blues Hour,” where the band sounds less like themselves and more like Pink Floyd’s gentler, more meditative side, and to my surprise, I’m liking that a whole hell of a lot. There’s no “Auto Rock,” here, it’s true (although “No Medicine For Regret” comes close in terms of majesty), but the “quieter” tracks like “Blues Hour” or the thoughtful, almost elegaic “Heard About You Last Night,” are the highlights this time around.

Maybe that’s the trick, then: once your music gets adopted by makers of teen-drama TV, don’t make a huge, wide-ranging change; make smaller, subtler changes, instead. If that’s Mogwai’s plan, well, I’ll keep on listening.

[Mogwai is playing 4/25/14 at Fitzgerald’s, along with Majeure.]
(Sub Pop Records -- 2013 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA. 98121;; Rock Action Records -- P.O. Box 15107, Glasgow, G1 1US, UK;; Mogwai --; Mogwai (Facebook) --; Mogwai (Twitter) --
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Friday, April 25th, 2014. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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