If Young Team gained an appeal through the shoegazer-style washes of ‘Tracy’, and its digital tide of effects pedals that layered the endless ’Mogwai Fear Satan’, ‘Come On Die Young’ shows the band wanting to simply plug in and play. Opener ‘Punk Rock’ features untreated clean guitars chiming in minor-key over a speech by Iggy Pop. The band’s trademark plaintive emotion, often covered below layers of feedback and delay on the previous album, is here bravely on show: ‘the brilliant music of a genius, myself’ Iggy Pop declares; you sense Mogwai would say the same themselves; if their music did not already do that for them.
‘Cody’ is a rare vocal track that sounds like a country lament from a ghost town, straight after the gold rush. Indeed, the sharply picked minor-key guitars could easily be Neil Young on Zuma: just darker. In the background a tasteful pedal-steel howls mournfully, as Stuart Braithwaite’s vocal sounds like all of Glasgow propping up the bar, and the soft, lugubrious music emphasises an overall half-drunken, half-romantic stupor.
If ‘cody’ is a bar-room howl, then ‘Helps Both Ways’ is the loner sloping home to his empty house and falling on the couch in front of the telly; almost literally, as an American football game plays in the background for the entire song. Again there is a clean guitar, but this time a nicely muted horn section plays over the top to the pace of a fugue. The song is strangely entrancing, a fine demonstration of how classical instruments are used in post-rock as not just to fill in the gaps, but to add something to the music.
‘Year 2000’ and ‘Kappa’ propound the sparse, ennui-rock further, the first with layers of metallic sounding guitars and samples, the second with a definite Slint-feel that is slightly atonal. The songs feel like a pair, but also as more an exercise in sound and unfettered production than anything else. The atmosphere of locale created by the previous tracks is in this way slightly compromised, but not totally.
‘Waltz for Aidan’ returns us to this drunken, woozy feel; and it’s sumptuous, aching melody, that finally melts into long country lanes of delay is one of the most beautiful moments on the album. The song is overdosed on wistful melancholy, and leads into the rather tenderly titled ‘may nothing but happiness come through your door’: the poignancy evident in the title is played out by a solitary guitar, that builds in volume as a clattering drum beat turns it to an impassioned shout: the rage finally collapses into a pool of soft keys, as a phone message plays pathetically in the background. At these junctures, we get this sense of a narrative running through this album, perhaps a person who has lost everything, and that this is a journey through his solipsism: the barren nature of the production enforces this brilliantly.
After the distorted piano interlude of ‘Oh! How the Dogs Stack Up’, the album enters into its tour de force: a triptych of lengthy songs - ‘Ex-Cowboy’, ‘Chocky’ and ‘Christmas Steps’ that each demonstrate Mogwai’s outreaching talent. In the first, a loose bass groove uncovers swathes of sound, from the beginning violins to towering guitars that finally rage to the surface, coating the soundscape in nightmarish entrancing squalls of feedback: the result is paralysingly beautiful, like staring over a precipice. The following number ‘chocky’ demonstrates the band’s sincerity of feeling as a plaintive piano melody unfolds alongside ascending guitars, the song drifts on like a journey through the hills, before foundering in a fog of static. ‘Christmas Steps’ is far better than it’s E.P. counterpart, sounding better with the lighter, less prominent guitars; it feels like someone picking their way through a snowbound landscape.
The closer is slightly disappointing, but this is a great album, an important album. I can’t understand why people see ‘Young Team’ as the flagship album: for me it is ‘Come On Die Young’ - the band took a brave risk with eschewing their early stomp box fascination, and this album demonstrates that they could make the most battered sounding guitar cry.