If at first, Mogwai's sixth album The Hawk Is Howling
feels mostly remarkable for its song titleswhat other quote-unquote 'experimental' band would christen their majestic soundscapes with names like "Daphne and the Brain", "The Sun Smells Too Loud", or "I Love You, I'm Going to Blow up Your School"?repeated listens see this record find a neat place in the band's canon, somewhere between the sonic bliss of Happy Songs for Happy People
and the intricate melancholia of Mr Beast
. Solely instrumental, it's an album that follows the latter-day Mogwai template of gently undulating peaks and troughs, rather than mountains and precipices. Which might sound less than scintillating, but these days Mogwai are less about dynamite dynamics and more about intricate melodies and songs that slowly, but grandly, wind their way to conclusions. The opening "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead" starts with a gentle minor-key keyboard piece by Barry Burns, but gradually builds in mass to a white-out of sparkling guitars. "The Sun Smells Too Loud" is a more synthetic-sounding piece doused in thick, fuzzy effects and yearning melodies. Meanwhile, "Batcat" proves the band can still flex a muscle, a squalling barnstormer with a Hassidic-tinged melody that recalls "My Father, My King". Louis Pattison
In an age where classic rock's stock remains high, the term 'post-rock' seems to be quaintly over-optimistic: like a science fiction story from 1970 where they predicted that by the 90s we'd all be living on Mars and snacking on pills. In the distant past it seemed bands like Slint, Tortoise and Godspeed You! Black Emperor were offering us a way out of sullen reactionary old guitar band land. No such luck. In 2008 - 11 years on from their debut - Mogwai, Scotland's very own purveyors of lyric free, soaring, measured droneism don't seem that bothered. The Hawk Is Howling exists in a parallel universe where brains, emotions and rock music are set to a higher purpose. Their build-sustain-release pattern of swirling, stately bludgeoning rock is in fine fettle. But who's listening?
This sixth studio album follows on from their 2006 soundtrack work for a biopic on French footballer, Zidane and sees them return to the vaguely jazzy meandering from beauty to chaos that marks their best work. It's not all strurm und drang, mind you. Opener, I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead, starts with drifting ambient piano before setting the controls for meltdown. Others just drift by, confounding expectations (Kings Meadow), or - on the fantastically named I Love You, I'm Going To Blow Up Your School - trick you into thinking you're safe, only to kick your head in in the last couple of minutes.
On The Sun Smells Too Loud the band actually get close to what we would consider a hummable tune, backed by some rather conventional drumming. Unfortunately it's a low point, but not much of a dip considering how bracing it all is. Like standing atop Glen Nevis in a force ten gale; The Hawk Is Howling is both invigorating and reminds you that post rock may have its very own cliches, but they're ones worth reiterating, for fear that we become too comfortable. Thank goodness someone's still doing this stuff. --Chris Jones
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