Monday, April 14, 2008

Mr. Beast - Mogwai (SCQ Spring 2008)

Mr. Beast

Matador Records.

SCQ Rating: 82%

As if Mogwai didn’t have enough pressure on them to consistently one-up their last record and you know, keep the whole post-rock genre respectable, manager Alan McGee had to open his big mouth. If the music-press weren’t already salivating over the Glasgow band’s impending follow-up to 2003’s Happy Music for Happy People, McGee offered that Mr. Beast is ‘as good as Loveless, or better’. Now people can compare themselves to My Bloody Valentine all they like, but when a manager in the business who actually worked on Loveless makes that comparison, the gloves are off. That comment was both an incredible piece of press for the band’s upcoming album and a backlash waiting to happen.

As a dark-horse competitor against Loveless, Mr. Beast loses, but as the most recent Mogwai record, it’s an impressive addition to their discography. Early interviews suggested that Mr. Beast was a return to the thrashing days of Young Team, which is sporadically evident in the metal of ‘Glasgow Mega-snake’ and ‘We’re No Here’. But this new effort has more in common with its predecessor, the textured and atmospheric Happy Music for Happy People; both consist of beautifully arranged minor masterpieces, the main distinguishing factor between them is volume. Where the former thrived off its lush serenity, Mr. Beast is less patient, more moody. Most songs are concluded within four and a half minutes (swift by Mogwai standards) and the album seems to teeter between wildly disparaging emotions. For every ‘Acid Food’, a relaxed piece of pastoral rock, there’s a ‘Travel is Dangerous’ waiting to explode nearby. The sequencing, beyond the album’s weak close, balances these moods and compliments most of the material.

Besides the noteworthy single ‘Friend of the Night’, the soft piano-led ‘Emergency Trap’ is the stand-out here, an instrumental ode that proves just how far Mogwai’s songwriting has come since Young Team’s quiet/loud dynamics. Why the band attempted to go back to their roots when they’ve evolved so much is a mystery to me, but Mr. Beast shows great potential that is worth striving for despite the occasional misstep.

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