Top positive review
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Band learns new tricks
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.