Scottish instrumental rocker’s Mogwai released their eighth studio album just over a month ago. To be perfectly honest, it’s not often I spend much time listening to instrumental bands but I’ve found listening to Rave Tapes a captivating experience, for the most part. This review is probably most suitable for those who, also, usually listen to vocal-centric music and may be interested in exploring something new – I’d like to help you in this process with the following review! Fans of Mogwai, though, do not leave! I’m hoping this, and my future reviews, will be both accessible and in-depth as I discuss music from my own unique perspective. So, please, enjoy.
Let’s start off strongly. Opening track Heard About You Last Night is, perhaps, my personal favourite. It’s an interesting opener; beginning subtly with light xylophones echoing like a sullen lullaby. Previous albums have begun in a similar unemphatic manner, however, unlike Special Moves (2010) opener I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead, which gradually progresses in a constant multi-layered crescendo, Heard About You Last Night seems quite content in it’s subtleties. A simple and warm bass guitar gives the song a heartbeat and, at about 0:53, guitar and drums sleepily join the soundscape. As the picked guitar chords fade out, the bass and drums keep steady, gently carrying the piece into the next section which washes over the listener in layers of electronic sound. We are then relaxed back into the previous section and the piece carries on similarly. It may not be groundbreaking but it’s totally satisfying, in my opinion. On a side note, the solemn mood of this track aptly compliments the dark clouds of Glasgow sky that I currently sit beneath.
Simon Ferocious is a bit more in-your-face and definitely less spacious than Heard About You… Its fat and fuzzy synths remind me of some kind of mechanical production factory – a bit like that scene in the Wall where the children are turned into meat – where the synths emulate the noise of the steam-powered machines as the cyclical drum pattern keep the cogs working. It get’s pretty sludgy and is dominated by contrasting synth tones. One part, which comes in at about 1:17, sounds clearer and thinner than the rest. It’s high pitched and wavy, and starts to cut out like a bad radio signal. The bass is firmly in the middle of this piece but it can, at times, become lost in the low synth tones. Smooth guitar lines are heard occasionally but they too become quite murky alongside everything else. Eventually the synths lose their weight and, with a few drum rolls, spurt to a halt.
Track 3, Remurdered, was the first to be released from the album and as Nick Neyland writes for Pitchfork, ‘certainly hinted that analog sounds would form a more rigorous backbone to their music than before, although they’ve been dabbling in this area since Rock Action in 2001.’ Although the album didn’t really live up to this expectation, the ironic title of Rave Tapes suggest that the band were fully aware of of this misconception. However, while the dark tone of the dampened electric guitar may be unusual for the regular dingy nightclub, the pounding drums start off what is most definitely my recommendation for those heading out for a sweaty evening of jaw-chewing and shape-cutting.
Mogwai’s suspected reliance on analog sounds in this album is dashed immediately after Remurdered as Hexon Bogon follows, ruled by distorted electric guitars. It’s not the most interesting piece but fans of heavy, ripping guitar (San Pedro, Mogwai Fear Satan maybe) will be satisfied. It’s actually quite hard to tell apart guitar and synth parts as everything is swallowed by a roaring wall of sound. At 2:36 it’s the album’s shortest track but still manages to make an impact.
Repelish features a voice-over in which a male narrator talks about the subliminal messages heard in Stairway to Heaven. Somewhat ironically, I don’t really get it! As Tessa Jeffers quipped ‘I might have to find Rave Tapes on vinyl, play it backwards, and see what happens.‘ Seriously though, I find the narration kinda distracting. I would probably be less annoyed if I understood the point of it so I’d appreciate it if someone could enlighten me.
[pause!] So that’s us about half way through the album. I’d really like to know what readers think of both the album and my review so please let me know in the comment section or on twitter @davidjolly52. With feedback I can make sure to feature music and articles that I know my readers will enjoy, so, please, don’t be shy! Also, if you enjoy this review, have a look through my archives and click the follow button below to keep up to date with all my publishings. [unpause!]
Rave Tapes’ versatility is particularly poignant at this stage as it becomes clear that the sound of the succeeding tracks will be hard to determine, and the next two pieces prove this once more; while a jagged-edged guitar riff creates the foundation of Master Card, Deesh is largely synth based. For the most part, Master Card has a much closer-together sound and melodic synth parts even overpower the guitar at times, as does the bass guitar riffage. The bass is also prominent through the second minute of Deesh but it is accompanied by a spread of smooth, long-held synth notes. This track is perhaps most climactic as it heads towards the 5 minute mark. Both tracks end quite abruptly but Deesh’s instrumentation dissolves casually where Master Card ends after a bout of heavy rocking.
Blues Hour provides the album’s first use of vocals. It starts out with a short, shaky piano melody, heavy in delay. After 23 seconds, this leads us into one big lovely piano chord. Immediately, it brings a lot of warmth. The piano carries on with similar patterns, accompanied by light guitar playing. Upon 0:54, we hear the lyrics ‘my ghost is always hungry,’ connoting a feeling of emptiness that is illustrated by breathy vocals. The rest of the lyrics are equally bleak (‘we’ll leave this world just how we found it, we’ll leave this place alone’) yet the piano makes parts of this track seem somewhat uplifting – comforting even. Gratifyingly, the band manages to move from the empty echoes of piano to a hugely amplified soundscape of screaming guitar before relaxing to the song’s gloomy yet satisfying close. Blues Hour is Pink Floyd-esque at times, particularly the piano parts which are reminiscent of the Great Gig in the Sky. And onwards we go to the final two tracks.
No Medicine for Regret is a steady paced and balanced crescendo of dynamics. It’s well built and explores the best part of 6 minutes well. It opens with an anticipating organ pattern, complimented by some unintrusive guitar work. Clearly something new is to be introduced here, and it’s surprisingly refreshing. The bright, catchy synth melody drizzles in at about 0:34 like tropical rain. It flickers and rings out for just under a minute before the organ section returns. When the synth is once again introduced, it sounds as fresh as before, with some new counter-melodies being used to keep us going forward. Once again Mogwai show their power in creating a huge wall of sound as guitar and piano are added. The track settles down with a decrease in volume after about 5 minutes, winding down with a strummed guitar as the organ arches over at the close.
The finale, The Lord is Out of Control, features some electronic vocals using a vocoder effect. Melodic bass guitar playing is prominent throughout this song and there’s less emphasis on the build up of guitar and synth parts that are regular through the rest of the album. Sadly, though, this is a slightly unemphatic ending to an album that I have found pretty engrossing, on the whole. The vocal effect isn’t enough, for me, to keep the song interesting but I suppose it provides some more variety to an already versatile work.
Overall, Rave Tapes was an enjoyable experience for me. As I said, I’m similar to most popular music fans in that I generally don’t listen to instrumental bands. But this was great, at times. I particularly enjoyed Heard About You Last Night, Blues Hour and No Medicine for Regret. Fans of more guitar based Mogwai may, however, prefer a track like Hexon Bogon. I find that the band work most successfully when creating a subtle build up of layers, seamlessly drifting from one section to the next. They have perfected a nuanced craft of creating confident and well balanced pieces without having to resort to obvious quiet-LOUD-quiet cliches. A surprisingly satisfying listen, for me.
I am now in the process of exploring Mogwai’s back catalogue and I hope you may too. Let me know what you think.