MOGWAI Ten Rapid (Jetset)

This is a long-overdue vinyl reissue (the CD appeared last year and has been reviewed by Peter Jolly in these pages) of Mogwai’s early singles, neatly summarising what they were up to prior to their marvellous debut album "Young Team". That being, much the same, by the sounds of things. The same brand of Sonic-Youth-in-slo-mo guitar experimentation marks these nine mostly instrumental tracks, with the odd smidge of backwards tapes (the track "End" sounds like "Summer" being played backwards in its entirety) or cacophonous distortion to break the listener’s concentration. Strangely these 1996/7 recordings seem to predict the mellower furrows Sonic Youth ploughed on their recent "A Thousand Leaves" possible-career-best album, with delicately picked, almost jazzy melodies in abundance. "Ten Rapid" may not be an essential purchase, but if you’re already addicted to Mogwai’s waverings between delicate six-string tracery and crushing noise it’s self-recommending.

MOGWAI Young Team (Chemikal Underground)

Intrigued by the presence of Mogwai’s debut album in the more reputable end of year round-ups, all it took was a listen to the stunning opening track "Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home" at a friend’s house ("You’ll like this, it sounds like Trans Am", he said derisively) before I was on the phone to Diverse negotiating the purchase of a copy of my very own.

Although it takes time - three or four listens are mandatory - I think my early impressions were justified. Playing mostly instrumental guitar rock, they draw less from The Shadows and rather more from current and recent cooler than thou American bands. Yes, they sound a lot like Trans Am, but the Trans Am of their eponymous debut rather than the Trans Am that snuggled stadium epics up to drum ‘n’ bass, Aphexy techno and white noise on the iceberg-pummelling "Surrender To The Night" album. Further comparisons can be drawn with virtually any band touched by the hand of Dave Pajo: long, drawn out guitar melodramas reminiscent of Slint, for example, others which sound like a less jazzy Tortoise, yet others that stroll the same gentle, ambient paths as Aerial M. Finally, there are moments that compare favourably with Sonic Youth at their most self-indulgent, least crowd-pleasing best.

So Mogwai aren’t exactly forging new directions in sound on "Young Team", but they are probably the only band currently playing this kind of music outside America. Their songs are generally longer than those of the bands mentioned above, giving their work a more structured, symphonic feel, with enough space and time for long, quiet, repetitive closing passages (for example on "Tracy") that seem almost cinematic. "With Portfolio" abducts some gentle piano that sounds not unlike Sonic Youth’s "Providence" and batters it with a heavily distorted remake of the guitar panning from the middle of "Whole Lotta Love". "R U Still In 2 It" sounds alarmingly like fellow Chemikal Undergrounders Arab Strap (they who provide the music for the current Guinness ad), mainly because that band’s Aidan Moffat contributes a mumbling Glaswegian soliloquy about going to the pub.

Mogwai have fashioned a music that transcends the sum of its impressively hip influences, that unravels further delights with every play. At first "Young Team" seems bland and expressionless, but perseverance shows how much detail lurks under its surface waiting to be discovered, like the gorgeous, rippling sheets of guitar noise that float to the top of "Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home" every now and then, or the repeated three note pattern that powers the epic "Mogwai Fear Satan". And if you’re wondering about the genus of the title, the first episode of the BBC2 drama "Looking After Jo Jo" featured Robert Carlyle as a budding crime überlord who was "trying to put a young team together".

MOGWAI Kicking A Dead Pig: Mogwai Songs Remixed (Eye Q)

Possibly to pre-empt allegations that, terrific though the music of this Scottish instrumental quartet may be, the less kind observer could accuse them of sounding like an instrumental Television who compensate for their inability to mimic Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s sinuous six-string architecture by turning everything up to 11, Mogwai present a remixed version of (substantially) their still-warm debut album, operated on by a clan of famous and not-so-famous names that includes Arab Strap, Third Eye Foundation, Alec Empire, Kid Loco and the band themselves.

Whatever "Kicking A Dead Pig" (ho ho ho) is or isn’t, it’s always interesting. Mogwai’s songs are full of twisty-turny passages that offer the listener all the attractions of a fiendishly cunning puzzle, the musical equivalent of a Rubik’s cube, perhaps. (Now I’m dating myself!) Handing their finely polished gemstones around for further beautification, the results are remarkably varied; even when the remixers are clearly coasting - Alec Empire’s take on "Like Herod" does little but bury the original under sporadic outbursts of ear-syringing breakbeats - it’s almost guaranteed to sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before, simply because the works of Mogwai and their chosen helpers are so alien, not only to a goodly percentage of the industry but also to each other.

Highlights for this listener include labelmates Arab Strap’s "Gwai On 45", a medley of their finest moments set to a drunken drum machine beat with the ghost of Jaap Eggermont never far away. An astonishingly clever and cheeky idea, it’s a shame that the Strap have now ended their remixing career, but what a way to go. Max Tundra contributes a fine remix of "Helicon 2", with passages of astonishing quiet beauty bracketed by sheets of thunderous guitar noise, a bit like Elvis Costello’s "Man Out Of Time". Best bit, though, has to be Surgeon’s take on "Mogwai Fear Satan", their debut album’s almost side-long closer. Junking pretty much the entirety of the original, he replaces it with a single drone that progressively becomes louder and louder over the course of six minutes, part My Bloody Valentine and Flying Saucer Attack, part Moody Blues album opener circa 1969. Fabulous.

"Kicking A Dead Pig" is not an essential album, especially if you’ve yet to discover the mindwarping delights of "Young Team", and as their practice of letting the world and his wife mess around with their master tapes has sapped any sense of cohesion the project could have had it’s nowhere near as fine as the remix album they all have to beat, Primal Scream’s momentous "Echo Dek", but as a way of shedding new light through some reasonably new windows it achieves it’s objectives and then some. All this and a free poster - who could want more?

MOGWAI Come On Die Young (Chemikal Underground)

Has any album released this year come so laden with expectation as this, the second proper long played from young Scottish post-rockets Mogwai? With "Young Team" firmly entrenched as one of the most magical, fragile and stomach-churningly noisy (sometimes all at once) debuts of the decade, what do they do but give interviews saying how they wanted to make an album as good as Joy Division's "Closer", Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" and Public Image Ltd's "Metal Box". And to compound the sense of feverish anticipation, the whole kit caboodle gets helmed by sometime Mercury Rev member Dave Fridmann, chosen by Mogwai following his sterling work on last year's undoubted album of the year, that band's "Deserter's Songs".

That gives "Come On Die Young" an awesome reputation to live up to, and I'm very happy to report that its turned out to be everything you could dare expect. Playing these songs in concert and for radio sessions for at least the last year has imbued the readings of "Ex-Cowboy" and "Christmas Steps" presented here with almost telepathic properties, and Dave Fridmann's contribution thankfully avoids any pretence of big-name producer stamp on the finished product. Although credited with production, mixing, engineering and various instruments, it sounds more like he just let the band play and taped the results, chipping in with the odd tonal coloration here and there. (Which is intended as a compliment, of course.)

But we're jumping the gun a little here. Like "Young Team" before it, "Come On Die Young" requires some serious listening before you begin to yield to its greatness. For the first few plays you'll just be annoyed by the apparently bizarre sequencing, with the sole vocal track appearing in slot two of eleven, and the second disc taken up substantially by three long, meandering instrumentals, and note that for a band with such a fiercely independent attitude it looks a little lame to give one of their songs ("Kappa") the same name as their clothing company sponsors. But when you get snagged everything here, from Iggy Pop's opening seminar on the glory of punk rock to the closing trombone solo "Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/ANTICHRIST" makes perfect sense.

Highlights include much of the second disc, those longgg instrumentals turning into vehicles of immense power, subtlety and suppleness, the album's best track "Christmas Steps" having the intensity of prime Black Sabbath and the melodic construction of Gorecki in the way it builds imperceptibly, kicks evil metal ass for a few minutes and subsides back into nothingness. Elsewhere you may notice subtle touches such as the American sports commentary that burbles behind "Helps Both Ways", or the looped "Please hold the line" BT announcement that haunts the end of "May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door".

"Come On Die Young" looks like being one of 1999's greatest achievements, as Mogwai continue to shrug off the restrictions of the post-rock tag - which in the past has been a convenient pigeonhole for everything from Flying Saucer Attack's Nick-Drake-in-a-wind-tunnel antics to Tortoise's progjazzrock theorising - in favour of something more all-encompassing, 'music music', if you like. And that they manage it substantially without the use of words makes their achievement all the more remarkable.

MOGWAI Mogwai (Chemikal Underground)

No title; four songs; no lyrics; one side plays at 33 rpm, the other at 45. Britain's finest exponents of post-rock present their first new material since March's fantastic Dave Fridmann-produced "Come On Die Young" long player. These days they seem to be making more use of the tonal light and shade provided by long-time (and now official) fifth member Barry Burns, and less of the quaint quiet-loud-quiet dynamics that reached their zenith on the astonishing Gorecki-meets-Black Sabbath hoe-down of "Christmas Steps". One track here - the cheerily titled "Burn Girl Prom Queen" - even features a brass band! At the rate they're evolving - galloping through and past musical maturity with a velocity unmatched by any other band in Britain, and warping traditional expectations of what music should and can do/be with their bare wires - these sporadic EP length outbursts are vital documents of their continuing search for the lost chord. Whether "Mogwai" represents their best work to date, as some commentators contend, is still open to debate: what it conclusively demonstrates, however, is that they're en route to somewhere else entirely.

MAGOO Black Sabbath/MOGWAI Sweet Leaf (Fierce Panda)

"Two sonic scratches of the big bad rock arse", it says on the sleeve of this Fierce Panda 7", which features two of the (un)popular alternative bands of today interpreting the evil works of the mighty Sabbath. Magoo's take on "Black Sabbath" begins with what sounds like a Toytown equivalent of the thunderclap effects that open the original, and from then on I find it difficult to take their reasonably faithful but utterly gutless cover seriously on any level. Round the back Mogwai briefly interrupt their conversation to knock out an uninspired reading of "Sweet Leaf" (not one of my favourite Sabbath tunes, I have to admit) - rather ironic, considering that they dismissed former Teenage Fanclub drummer Brendan O'Hare from their line-up after talking through an entire Arab Strap gig. There's scant evidence of the magic (pun unintended) of Black Sabbath in the work of these young pretenders presented here, which is unfortunate considering the extent to which Mogwai have fashioned themselves on the Sabs thudding instrumental dexterity. Don't buy this (oh, you weren't going to anyway, were you?), grab a stack of the Ozzy-era albums to discover how profoundly their influence still resonates.

MOGWAI 4 Satin EP (Chemikal Underground)

"4 Satin" was Mogwai's first outpouring for The Delgados' Chemikal Underground label, and three years after it was released it still sound like an astonishing document of a band scratching at the conventional limitations of song structure. Opening with cut and pasted CB radio chatter and the alien thunk of a primitive drum machine, "Superheroes Of BMX" is an astonishing wander through Mogwai's rarely visited electro side. Nothing else in their catalogue is as strictly regimented as this machine music, especially these days when their rampant experimentation seems to compel them to slide through as many tempos in a song as the notes can withstand. "Now You're Taken" returns to more familiar territory, with Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat mumbling words of beery emotional enlightenment over a soundtrack of polite six-string restraint. The second side is taken up entirely by "Stereodee", which begins as gently as mist hanging over swamplands before the melody arrives, itself soon to be submerged under what seems like a lifetime of fuzz, noise and distortion, which, on clearing, reveals too few seconds of pounding acid house. As a brief tour of what Mogwai excel at "4 Satin" has only been usurped by everything they've released subsequently because they're a band seemingly incapable of standing still.

MOGWAI Rock Action (Southpaw)

"Rock Action" is Mogwai's third proper long player (their discography is cluttered up with remix projects and collections of early singles) and the first release on Southpaw, a new label started by one of their mates, apparently. Like its illustrious predecessor, "Come On Die Young", it was produced by Dave Fridmann, who is fast becoming regarded as an Eno of the underground following equally his equally sterling work on albums by Home, Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, Regular Fries, The Delgados and Sparklehorse. And, like just about every Mogwai release to date, "Rock Action" succeeds in pushing back the boundaries of what should rightly be expected of creaky ole rock music. Much of the album meanders pleasantly in an agreeable post-rock fashion, with the songs-to-instrumentals quotient approaching parity for the first time in Mogwai's career. Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys incants hauntingly in Welsh during "Dial: Revenge", a track that could easily have fallen off that band's last mother-tongue opus "Mwng", and Dave Pajo, sometime of Slint (arguably the band that started the whole post-rock phenomenon), Tortoise, The For Carnation, Royal Trux, Aerial M and Papa M, contributes backing vocals to "Take Me Somewhere Nice".

But there are two moments when "Rock Action" rises high above the level of all this admittedly fine background burbling. Opener "Sine Wave" is a glorious symphony of static and silence, a synergistic ballad of machine and melody that evolves from surface noise into something truly memorable. "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong" is the album's other parallel universe big hit, a gorgeous slab of systems music and restrained psychedelia that truly blossoms with the arrival of The Remote Viewer's banjo picking towards its close.

There are other subtle shifts in direction and attitude here as well of course: "Rock Action" clocks in at around half the length of Mogwai's previous very long players, and the music concentrates on gentle modulation and undulation rather than the thundering, jagged crescendos so beloved of the band in the past. All of which is ample evidence that Mogwai are still happily possessed by the spirit of restless, wandering experimentation, making "Rock Action" another marvellous document of the band's continuing quest.

MOGWAI My Father My King (PIAS Recordings/Rock Action)

Apparently a staple of their live set for the last two years, Mogwai's "My Father My King" has finally made it to vinyl. It's the Scottish band's legendary instrumental interpretation of a Jewish hymn (the unsung lyrics are reprinted on the inner sleeve), which, timed at 20 minutes and 12 seconds, is 12 seconds too long to qualify for inclusion in the singles chart, the kind of stubborn, bloody-minded gesture that we've come to expect of Mogwai and their new producer, Steve Albini. So, I'm surprised to find that "My Father My King" is actually something of an anti-climax. The opening section crashes and builds like a ruffled, unruly cousin of Jeff Buckley's "Dream Brother", a vague Eastern influence even faintly suggesting Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir". This is soon replaced by the main body of the song, a duelling guitar waltz that eventually topples into a coda of swirling feedback. Which is all very sweet and dandy, but disappointingly reserved by Mogwai's standards: almost like a lexicon of 40 years of guitar abuse from the feedback intro to The Beatles' "I Feel Fine" via "Sister Ray" and Sonic Youth to My Bloody Valentine's effects pedal overload and Godspeed You Black Emperor!'s desolate melancholy, it's a concise summary of what's already been done and dusty, without even beginning to suggest what the majestic new sonic frontiers of tomorrow or next week might feel like. Dwarfed by their own reputation and high standards, the mighty Mogwai army stumble momentarily. Now wash your hands.

MOGWAI Special Moves (Rock Action)

I don’t normally discuss an album’s packaging ahead of its music, but with this, Mogwai’s first live album, I feel justified in doing so. Revelling in the kind of new sumptuousness that arguably started with the discbox edition of Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”, the vinyl version of “Special Moves” arrives as a box set containing the album proper on two LPs, a disc of extra tracks bringing the total playing time close to two hours, a voucher for downloads of all the above, a just-like-you’d-buy-in-the-shops copy of the CD with its attendant DVD documentary “Burning”, a signed poster and – partying like it’s 1979! – a sew-on patch! In material terms I’d say that’s a pretty good £40-worth, although it’s a shame bordering on a tragedy that the vinyl version, whilst sounding raggedly alive in ways that make the CD seem sedated, is shockingly poorly pressed, peppered with snap, crackle and pop and housed in inner sleeves that were already falling apart as I broke the shrinkwrap.

The music, though, is mostly splendid. Having lost track of what Mogwai have been up to for the last decade or so, as well as being a great live album “Special Moves” is also a handy primer on what I’ve missed. They seem to have eased from the grunge dynamics of their earlier work to a more expressive, expansive, finely modulated sound, bringing melodic sophistication to their slippery, shuddering white noise apocalypse: opening trio “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead”, “Friend Of The Night” and “Hunted By A Freak” typify this change. It’s the old songs, though, that astonish most with their audacious gambling with form, such as the way the three note riff of “Mogwai Fear Satan” is repeated for an eternity yet still runs the gamut from thunderously heavy metal to pindrop jazz club intimacy. “Cody” is a rare Mogwai non-instrumental, and makes me wish that there were more of them. Its warm and weary nostalgic resignation and lyrical imagery of sad songs, streetlights and night drives could almost be mistaken for a kind of prep school Blue Nile. “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong” sorta finds the band in the middle of their old and new approaches, no longer extreme volume dealers but still interested in pretty melodic concision, although the studio version’s plinking banjo is sadly absent here. “Like Herod” dissolves into a spitting, seething maelstrom of feedback and distortion, from which emerges the astonishing “Glasgow Megasnake”, boxing the listener around the ears with its angular regularity.

Welcome as the bonus disc undoubtedly is, the vinyl version might have been yet more special (pun unintended, honestly) had the extra tracks been stitched into the album proper in their rightful places in the setlist. As it is the third LP plays like a kind of anticlimactic encore, not that the songs or performances are in any way disappointing on their own terms (well, maybe excluding “Batcat”, which I can’t yet hear as anything more than an inferior reworking of “Glasgow Megasnake”). “Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home” is as gleefully mesmeric as ever, and the churchy organ of “Scotland’s Shame” ushers in a sense of swirling, gathering gloom that’s cryptic in at least two senses of the word.

Over on the DVD, “Burning” is a 48-minute rockumentary filmed at the same April 2009 Brooklyn shows from which the main feature is compiled. It’s one of those rare music films that actually improves with repeated viewings. At first I thought it felt too fractured, but revised that opinion on rewatching it. It’s, um, compact, admittedly, but only two of its eight performances are substantially hacked – “Like Herod” is reduced to its brutal closing section, and “Mogwai Fear Satan” loses its pastoral conclusion. The black and white visuals are heavy on images of torsos with guitars, furrowed-browed musicians belting out malleable sheets of noise and entranced, nodding spectators. It’s actually quite educational viewing at times, for example when the band, poised in telepathic communion, await the cue to slam back into “Mogwai Fear Satan”’s monstrous riff. A pleasant addition under the somewhat numerically challenged Bonus Features menu is a full performance of the aforementioned filmed in similarly grainy black and white at Reims.

In sum, then, and in box set form, “Special Moves” is a plush (at least until it starts to fall apart) memento of Mogwai’s decade-and-a-half career so far. If you ever liked them, you’ll like this.

MOGWAI / THE TWILIGHT SAD Manchester Academy, 26 February 2011


Fabulous as The Twilight Sad sound on album – a kind of Belle & Sebastian-meets-My Bloody Valentine bittersweet fondant – they haven’t yet found a way to translate that brilliance into live performance; well, not here and now, at least, and not elsewhere either if reports from other stops on this tour are to be believed. Vocalist James Graham spends much of the set standing perpendicular to the audience, almost as if he’s in the grip of debilitating stage fright, although his cogent between-song comments would seem to suggest otherwise. The arrangements, though earsplittingly loud, seem anaemic, with vocals and the clatter of Jack Black-esque drummer Mark Devine prominent and a kind of mush where the guitars and creaky old keyboards should be teased into a sonic walnut whip. The Twilight Sad have great potential, almost all of which is sadly unrealised tonight.


Sadly something similar could also be said of Mogwai. Judging by the artistically scissored live performances on the “Burning” DVD that accompanied last year’s “Special Moves” concert document they’re not the most visually active of bands, so it’s probably no great disaster that I can see little more than a sea of heads in front of me, but even the images projected above the stage seem kinda half-hearted. Great swathes of the set are drawn from new album “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will”, which, due to what my local record vendor assures me are “production problems” with the vinyl version, I’ve had the opportunity to hear exactly once, on the day of the gig. Initial impressions are often inaccurate, but at this point in time its sounds to me like a Mogwai album with all the interesting bits taken out, something this evening does little to dispel. There are some choice moments in the bits between these bits: the second song they play is the usually monumental “Mogwai Fear Satan”, albeit taken at a lazy, maybe even slothful, pace that somewhat smudges its melodic perfection if not its sledgehammer impact. “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead”, “Hunted By A Freak” and “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong” are similarly defocussed, not just compared with their studio brethren but also compared with their “Special Move” equivalents. The evening closes with “My Father My King”, which I’ve always found something of a trudge even in its (20 minute!) single form, its cause not exactly furthered tonight by a droning nose and feedback coda that seems to last until the 50p in the meter runs out.  Much as I enjoy much of Mogwai’s music, it seems the stars aren’t aligned tonight, although I suspect that’s a minority view amongst this gig’s audience.

MOGWAI Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Rock Action) 

On their seventh studio album, without the quaking dynamic shifts that characterised their most interesting, intense work, Mogwai circa 2011 run dangerously close to the risk of sounding like just another bunch of indie guitar-wielders  who are too lazy to write lyrics. Opener “White Noise”, for instance, might be perfectly pleasant on its own terms, but, squashed flat against the meters’ end stops, it barely builds or swells, with next to no melodic development. “Mexican Grand Prix” plays like a weird fusion of electroclash and Krautrock, all breathy vocals and the Geiger counter rhythms of Kraftwerk circa “Radioactivity”, but that’s all there is, with nothing of substance behind its immaculate, shiny surfaces. “Rano Pano” boasts a fuzzed-up, Escher puzzle of a melody, but it’s a last gasp before the album surrenders entirely to dullness, with song after unremarkable, plodding song wearing titles more memorable than their tunes. The piano-led “Letters To The Metro” sounds like one of the quieter moments of “Young Team” after everything interesting about it has been distilled off, and “You’re Lionel Richie” squanders the old quiet/loud dialectic on a tune so non-committal you wonder why it bothered to turn up.

Needing a copy of the album in a hurry ahead of seeing Mogwai in concert, and frustrated by the continued unavailability of the standard vinyl version in my area due to “production difficulties”, I sprang for the super-deluxe box set. In addition to a perfectly serviceable copy of the double vinyl pressing of the album so mysteriously unattainable on its own, the box also contains the two disc limited edition version of the CD, a bonus 12” entitled “Home Demos”, a series of prints based on the album’s artwork and – don’t shake me, Lucifer! – a Mogwai stencil, which would be ideal if I were a member of Mogwai with a pile of shiny new flight cases to personalise. The home demos do nothing to disguise what they are – underdeveloped early iterations of the main features – although the sound of ragged drum machine programming slicing through cat’s cradles of guitars imbues these versions with a degree of tension sadly absent from the finished product. The second disc of the CD version contains a single 23-minute track entitled “Music For A Forgotten Future (The Singing Mountain)”, a soundtrack recorded for an art installation. Parodic as it might sound, it’s, perhaps depressingly, the most interesting music in the entire box. Tiptoeing gingerly on Eno, Tortoise and The Necks territory it makes easy virtue of its slow moving, repetitive piano and string loops, impressing itself upon the (well, this) listener’s mind in ways the album proper totally fails to.  

The first time I heard any Mogwai was when a friend played me their “Young Team” album on intro scan, arguing that hearing the opening ten seconds of each track was sufficient as the rest was just the same. Well, I find that argument as patently untrue of “Young Team” as it’s sadly applicable to “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will”.