Thursday, 25 September 2008

Review - Mogwai - The Hawk Is Howling

It is a well held belief that silence can be more powerful than words. This is not unsurprising when we are shouted each day by hundreds of television and print adverts to buy different types of nonsense that we don’t really need. I am a culprit of such a thing – I recently got an iPhone and, even after saying that it didn’t bother me much, it is very good, and now the things it does are quite important to me, like the GPS system. But there is nothing better than sitting down with an album, and listening to the music.

Where Mogwai fit into this is that they are a rock band with lyrics – or at least, use them minimally. On their seminal album Come On Die Young they did add lyrics to the mix, albeit soft spoken and sampled, but they were there to punctuate the material. Otherwise, they leave the music to do the talking.

This is not exactly unusual – indeed, it is quite a cyclical outlook on music, as most of the most emotive pieces of music are instrumental, be it a classical score, operatic or even a film score, it puts music to emotion with having to spell it out for everyone in words. Mogwai are the Scottish equivalent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They are the often cited Post-rock stalwarts, having perfected the 6 minute long passage of music built around noise, tinkering with arrangements, and repetition.

Their last album proper was Mr Beast, a hit and miss selection of Mogwai cuts, kind of like a good pack of ham. Plenty of good taste and texture, but it just wasn’t the same meat as you used to get. They released an interim album, a soundtrack to the wildly interesting and on the face of it, boring, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, simply following a football player over 90 minutes. This album was more delicate and measured, with a theme of simple guitar lines and an over arcing riff. It gave me hope that the mix of tracks on Mr Beast, a piano led track, an acoustic track, and loud track were just a blip and the layered multi faceted experience of Come on Die Young would return.

Interestingly there seems to be a mix of them on this album. Starting with Jim Morrison I am Dead, the album lulls you into a quiet ascendancy, slowly lifting your chin up to gaze at you, with a smile on your face. After this slow, but measured, introduction to the album, instead of gently stroking your chin, it Glasgow Kisses you and runs off into the night laughing with the uproariously loud and heavy Batcat. It sounds forced, almost manufactured, and even though it harks back to the sounds of Mogwai Fear Satan, it is never going to capture the ferocity of that track, simply because that was then, and this is now.

This is the era of production and electronic blips and bleeps. On The Sun Smells Too Loud they are there in force, and work well. It is to the end of the album where things get interesting, with I Love You, I am Going to Blow Up Your School being intricate, and The Precipice, ending the album with a swage of perfect post rock.

It is a mixed bag, but six albums in and the band can’t be expected to keep innovating in the same way that they did previously in their career. It feels like a good summation of the bands career and is a great addition to the discography, but with Mogwai each album feels like a little story. And when you listen back to The Hawk Is Howling it feels much more disjointed – almost like a Mogwai best of would sound. For other bands, this might be a strength, but for Mogwai this is a disadvantage.

The problem with success and creative experience is that you can ruin you back catalogue or improve it. Mogwai have done neither – The Hawk Is Howling is not essential, but definitely worth a look. Their greatest work will always lie behind them.


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