Feb 5, 2014

Music Review: "Rave Tapes" by Mogwai

By Milos Markicevic

Ever-consistent Scottish post-rockers Mogwai have returned with their 8th studio album Rave Tapes, a follow up to their excellent Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will released back in 2011. The band’s trademark sound (i.e. sweeping instrumental climaxes) is still present but the guys have taken a more experimental approach this time around, mixing things up with some excellent synthesizers and electronic textures—even throwing in a vocoder near the end.

Like most of Mogwai’s output since The Hawk Is Howling, the album is instrumental except for a couple of tracks. The most interesting of these is “Repelish” which has a Reverent named Lee Cohen taking center stage. Sounding both like a calm televangelist and confident academic, Cohen provides spoken word over the band’s subdued synth-guitar combo, going into an eerily in-depth “scholarly” analysis of the supposedly hidden and “subliminal” backmasked Satanic messages in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven”. The end result is both creepy and fascinating, lingering long after you’re finished listening to it.

Another stand out on Rave Tapes, and my personal favorite, is “Remurdered”. The track starts slow, with muffled guitar plucks before a menacing analogue synth creeps in. Continuously looping as the song progresses, everything gets gradually louder-- electric guitar punctuating things here, and strums highlighting things there. Then, at the 3 minute mark, the synth returns, louder than before, and kick drums punching into the mix achieve shear perfection. It’s an awesome moment and by the time it’s over-- and you've recovered from the “That was awesome!” paralysis-- you’re immediately reaching for the playback button.

Although Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was the band’s last proper album the band did record in between it and Rave Tapes, doing the soundtrack for the French TV show Les Revenants. This isn't the first time the band has done soundtrack work as Les Revenants is Mogwai’s third soundtrack release (The band previously did work on Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain and the French documentary, Zidane). Rave Tapes itself plays much like a soundtrack; it’s both moody and restrained, but contains moments of heightened action that snap you back to attention (like the drums in “Remurdered”).

The creative use of synths gives things a bit of a futuristic sci-fi flavor this time around, as if Rave Tapes is the soundtrack to a long lost John Carpenter flick. Other times the band sticks to their guns, playing their post-rock style with veteran precision. I've listened to the album in its entirety three times now and with each listen there’s something new to find and appreciate, especially in the longer tracks. Although six minutes may be a bit much for the average listener, those who stick around will find themselves highly rewarded.

Grade: B+

Note: Like the rest of Subpops releases, record stores will receive the first pressing colored vinyl “Loser Edition”. Rave Tapes comes in green translucent vinyl and also contains a bonus 7” that contains the excellent track “Tell Everybody That I Love Them”.

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