17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 17 March 2006
This record is typical of the later, more mature Mogwai: which means nothing even approaching the feedback terror of ‘With Portfolio‘, and no more samples of late night NFL and answer-phones. Whilst for some this kills the raucous essence of the band, ‘Happy Songs For Happy People’ ultimately shows a band more aware of mood, of structure, and most of all song structures stretching beyond the perfunctory build-destroy mechanism of their earlier efforts.
But enough of that, the opener 'Hunted by a Freak' is simply a great post rock song. Here, the spindly opening riff stretches along with that practiced Mogwai uncertainty, segueing nicely into a mellifluous chorus: soon the delay pedals arrive on scene to increase the emotional fervour. Yet the intention to wig out, to simply add more, is commendably forestalled (see ‘mature Mogwai’) and instead Mogwai shift the mood to one of calm in the middle eight, where a cello weaves between clean guitar lines. This demonstrates Mogwai’s growing maturity working to their advantage, and the shift back into the chorus clinches the songs hymnal quality perfectly.
'Killing all the flies' starts of with a simple guitar riff that is evocative of REM, complete with vocoder-voice layered over the top. The song seems like it would be better suited to a live vocal, and maybe Mogwai could have given Gruff Rhys a call, who added so much to 'Dial:Revenge' on Rock Action. This is a similar sort of song, but the structure lacks any kind of punch and after a flurry of guitars mid-song, collapses away into the same tedious, skipworthy harmonics as closes ‘Kids Will be Skeletons‘.
The intermission of 'Boring Machines' is welcome and vital. The melange of smooth textural sounds, culled from all kinds of treated feedback and rich organ, create a choral sound that is reminiscent of some post-rock church service. Like with 'Moses', the percussion is intermittent and allows the music to breath: undoubtedly this is one of my favourite songs on the album, and it has a majesty that seems to make it a spyhole into the icy drifts of Sigur Ros.
'Ratts of the Captial' is undoubtedly the standout. It has that typical Mogwai build up with its spindly-clean telecasters, yet the transition into the chorus is unexpected and alters the mood from a sense of ennui to ebullient expectation. The band again show their growing observance for the advantages of restraint, almost sadistically refusing the temptation to kick in with the distortion to the last possible moment: the resultant effect is pure energy and exhilaration. The song ends with a kick of majestic octaves that is evocative of King Crimson or Tool - a slight overkill here - but it doesn't mean this song isn't fantastic. The production is so good that the xylophone is allowed to chime through and not be destroyed by the overarching guitars: Mogwai again get that balance between beauty and brutality that is a part of all their best work.
'Stop Coming To My House' is slightly disappointing. The melody the song develops is to begin with interesting, but then the capturing of it by simply topping it with distortion topples any sense of drama this song is trying to create. This is the sort of song Mogwai could write in their sleep; it is an example of where the temptation to indulge is simply too great for them.
Overall, this is an album worth having. If you are wanting a gateway into post-rock this is also a good place to start: it shows some of its weaknesses and some of its strengths, but most of all nearly all of these songs are good songs - there is precious little filler and there is a coherence on offer that many of Mogwai's albums seem to lack.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2005
This is the first Mogwai album I actually heard and I have to say I completely adore it. Everything I want music to be is on this CD, it's exceptionally downbeat and melancholy yet the songs are still incredibly dramatic and moving. No doubt it's not for everyone (which isn't to say it's some sort of incredibly intelligent album that only I understand as it isn't) but if you enjoy sad, clever and above all subtle music then you should enjoy this.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
In a way this album exemplifies the musician's perennial problems of trying to square the circle by coming up with something different whilst staying the same. From the opening notes this is clearly identifiable as being Mogwai and as it progresses can be heard to equal the quality of its predecessors. The individuality of their musical identity creates unenviable inbuilt difficulties: if a piece resembles an earlier recording, the band is laid open to charges of stagnation, of simply having further stabs at basically recording the same album in a new guise; if it differs too much, they risk being accused of losing their identity, or even of selling out and becoming too commercial.
Perhaps tellingly, the two songs that featured in the top ten of the 2003 John Peel Festive Fifty, the only two to be placed, were Hunted By A Freak and the eight-minute epic Ratts Of The Capital, as these side-openers contain the most recognisably Mogwai trademark qualities: the sinister, slow building of the soundscape, the quiet/loud/quiet passages, the tortured guitar. However, elsewhere on the record there are several subtle indications that Mogwai have plenty left to say, musically speaking, and there is more of a democratic band feel than in some of their earlier guitar-led pieces. Four of the tracks are augmented by cello or violin, and a string quartet is employed to atmospheric effect on Killing All The Flies.
As always, the titles remain enigmatic and willfully ungrammatical (Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep; Moses? I Amn't), and in a mark of the new maturity and restraint shown throughout this extremely listenable record, most of the pieces are only three or four minutes long. This is not a record that gives away all its secrets on the first listen, but rewards repeated plays. This is in no small part due to the skilful engineering led by Tony Doogan at the CaVa studios in Glasgow, but also to the collaborative efforts and musical empathy of the band themselves.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 July 2003
On first listen, this album would seem to confirm fears that Mogwai have lost the vital edge that made them THE underground british band of the late nineties. Only through perseverance does the magnificence of this music become apparent. While it might seem more subdued than previous efforts, this is a band that no longer need to bleed eardrums at 11, content to play at the peak of their powers.
'MOSES? I AMN'T' is gloriously aphex twin-style ambience, while 'KIDS WILL BE SKELETONS' seems to revisit and perfect the territory of 'Tracy' and 'Katrien's simple melodic build from 'Young Team'. 'BORING MACHINES DISTURBS SLEEP' with it's hazy drone like background and understated vocal goes back even further, to 'tuner' from the 'Ten Rapid' collection.
Every song is a gem in its own way, as highlight after highlight unfolds in its own time. If the album seems shorter in comparison to their last albums, it is because it doesn't need to be any longer, it is perfect. This is Mogwai's masterpiece, and by the time 'RATTS OF CAPITAL' and 'STOP COMING TO MY HOUSE' have played out, you will have cheated on 'Young Team' with the new lighthearted floozy that is 'Happy Songs for Happy People'.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2004
sometimes there is only one album that will fit your mood and for those days when nothing seems to be going right, this is the one. it finds mogwai at their most accessible - it is the album that i've managed to convert more people to the cause with than any other. every track is a classic, although it works best as a whole with it being one of the most uplifting works in my collection. as a mogwai devotee i would recommend any album but this is their best work as a whole, perfect length, wonderful production and no wasted tracks.
a life affirming experience - get it now and see them live, where they are at their peak!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 May 2004
This one takes some listening to to really appreciate what Mogwai are doing. After my first listen I was left disappointed because it seemed like nothing new.... 10 listens in I was absolutely hooked on the album. It's now up there with Come on Die Young as an absolute favourite. People complain that Mogwai have changed and the music isn't what they originally like Mogwai for but the band are experimenting and trying new ideas. If they had released 4 Young Teams would anybody really be happy? The music takes from where the rather weak Rock Action left off and builds on it to really show the strengths of the band. The first opening track 'Hunted by a Freak' is possibly the best thing they have ever recorded and the piano of 'I Know you Are But What Am I?' is haunting yet beautiful.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 July 2003
An album that will quite literally take your breath away. Mogwai don't deserve the title "avant rockers"; this kind of heady rush of sonic brilliance merits a push into Moby-esque stardom.
Although it seems impossible to top the tranquil first half, with mellow gems like "Kids Will Be Skeletons" and "Killing All The Flies", the album really comes into its own in the second half. Mogwai have a habit of giving their songs off-hand titles which really don't give them credit; "Ratts of the Capital"s climax (hyperbole time) is like Sonic Youth caught in an airplane engine, while the finale "Stop Coming To My House" is like bursting out of the Earth's stratosphere only to find it's a speck of dust on some astonishingly beautiful alien world. Do yourselves a favour, go out and get this now, because we need more bands who can do this kind of heaven-scraping music.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
It's an obviously ironic title. Mogwai have always specialised in long, melodramatic, noise-fests and spacey, experimental post-rock. Here, they lean more towards the latter, approaching, at some points, sheer aural bliss, as on opener 'Hunted By A Freak' on which a blinding yet simple indie guitar riff expands into layers of beautiful, lush sound. For anyone who thought Belle & Sebastian and Travis were as complex as Scottish indie music got, they need a listen to this. Even a simple instrumental like 'Moses I Amn't' conveys gorgeousness, a spine-tingling cello line leading its minimalist soundscape. Even on the non-instrumental tracks, vocals flit in and out, usually computer-modified, and more of a textural instrument while chiming guitars carry the melody.
Sadly, the huge, distorted guitar sound of Stuart Braithwaite is largely absent, so when it enters halfway through the brilliant 'Killing All The Flies' it is a glorious moment. It's soon gone though, so we must turn to album standout 'Ratts of the Capital' which is like Mogwai of old, a guitar-lover's song, seemingly exploring every texture possible on the instrument and flaunting Mogwai's art-metal influence; or closer 'Stop Coming To My House', simply an industrial feast of white noise. The balance they provide make 'Happy Songs' up with Mogwai's best, if not quite reaching the towering, 5-star heights of 'Come On Die Young', and probably to be one of the year's best, too.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2003
It comes as no suprise to fans that this, the new album from Scotlands Mogwai is excellent, to the uninformed it could be nothing less than a pleasant one. Whilst hardly the most accessable music, [Happy songs for happy people] is Mogwais most commercial album to date, but this shouldn't displease their hardcore fanbase as it includes and expands on everything that made them great in previous works. There will be no doubt after listening to this that they've mastered their sound, there are none of the stagnant moments that, on occassion hindered [Come on die young] and while its similar in ways to [Rock Action] (large use of strings and vocoder warblings) they have condensed their songs to an average length closer to 5 minutes as supposed to 9 or 10 and results in an album with absolutely no wasted play time, the songs are also more consice and tuneful yet still reach a satisfying white noise climax followed by the usual coda. This is most notable on the superb 'Rats in the Capital'. If you have yet to experience Mogwai then either this or [young team] would be the perfect place to start or even better are their live performances which the albums sadly cannot capture. For the fans, this should be just another superb Mogwai album.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 June 2003
Im not sure what to think of this album. It was going to be hard work to follow the masterpieces that they produced previously. The album starts out with a very mogwaiesq song. It has a great guitar part that sounds... lovely! But, the only problem is that is does not carry one for the length it should for it to be a great mogwai song. It does not contain the usual subtle changes that mogwai songs usually have. I cant find many songs that really stand out to me on the cd like Fear satan did on young team, or Sine wave on rock action. All in all, it is still very good, and i will enjoy hours of relaxing and falling asleep while this cd is on repeat on my cd player. AND IM SEEING THEM AT GLASTONBURY!