Released 20th January, 2014
Rock Action Records
Let’s get one thing straight: the title of this new Mogwai album is misleading, and anyone hoping for something upbeat will frankly be disappointed. If any of these songs were dropped at a rave, the floor would clear pretty quickly. ‘Rave Tapes’ is instead an archetypal Mogwai album in which they recycle their tested techniques to varying degrees of effect. They’ve stuck with what they know: familiar Mogwai tropes on Rave Tapes are mostly pleasing but occasionally a little dull.
The album begins brimming with purpose. ‘Heard About You Last Night’ is an emotive opener, layered with echoing bells. ‘Simon Ferocious’ and ‘Remurdered’ are both unsettling and compelling, driven by throbbing, distorted bass lines. Pulsating synths are used again on ‘Deesh’ to jolting effect. It’s these droning sci-fi sounds that stick in the memory more than anything else on the album.
The sampled voiceover on ‘Repelish’, a rant from a radio host about Led Zeppelin’s satanic subliminal messaging, is a welcome voice and (presumably) pokes fun at rock music’s occasional bloated sense of importance. It also offers a glimpse of how Mogwai could incorporate vocals into their sound, but then the suffocated and unintelligible singing on ‘Blues Hour’ reminds us why they stick with the instrumentals. The album’s meatier moments are dampened by a number of ponderous tracks that don’t really go anywhere. Weaker songs on most bands’ albums are gone in 3 minutes; on a Mogwai album they stick around for at least 5 – kind of a mood killer.
In contrast to the bold first half, the second half of the album sees Mogwai retreating to their comfort zone (not necessarily a bad thing – ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ etc). Their sound is still grand and impressive, but the atmospheric songs that make up half of the album feel vague and hollow. Maybe, since their soundtrack work on Zidane and Les Revenants, they’ve fallen into the habit of wrapping their music around specific themes and aligning it with a narrative. Here, the music is sometimes empty and lacking in direction when standing on its own two feet. Maybe soundtracking is a logical career move for Mogwai. Their music is commonly referred to as ‘cinematic’.
Maybe it’s a criticism, maybe it’s a compliment, but I can’t help but think of ‘Rave Tapes’ as an excellent soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist.