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Scots avant-rockers Mogwai may never quite shake their reputation as determined sonic brutalists, but a spin of Happy Songs for Happy People
demonstrates that they're no longer simply set on rendering the aural equivalent of being sucked out a spaceship airlock. Although always a democracy, previously, Stuart Braithwaite had taken on the role of Mogwai's bandleader-by-proxy, his tumultuous guitar roar the outfit's most obvious hallmark. Now, however, multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns appears to fulfil this role--albeit, with much more restraint--crooning effect-heavy vocals somewhere from the wispy heart of "Hunted By a Freak", teasing out a meditative piano line on the ghostly "I Know You Are But What Am I?". Indeed, more than any other Mogwai work, sheer bliss appears to be this album's singular aim: even the amp-busting crescendo of "Ratts of the Capital" matches its dark metal pomp with chiming orchestra bells and starburst lead-guitar lines. No sudden banjo interludes or no guest vocals jar with the album's slow passage towards its conclusion--and it's a fact that plants the fear that maybe Mogwai are all played out. True, it's hard to shake the feeling that they'll never again write something as monumental as Come On Die Young
. But even revolving in their ever-tightening spiral, Mogwai sound lush and powerful. Their time is not yet past. --Louis Pattison