Monday, February 14, 2011

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will - Mogwai

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Sub Pop Records.

SCQ Rating: 80%

Nearly two and a half years on, I still find myself trying to claw at what The Hawk Is Howling really was. An engorged assortment of post-rock tenets spring to mind, treading old reflexes at rare highlights (‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’, ‘King’s Meadow’) but submerged in crotchety, witless songwriting for the most part. Yes, Mogwai’s 2008 epic occupied a lot of space on disc but for the same reason nobody bothers manufacturing oversized coasters, it was difficult to justify its ten songs’ ample elbow-room.

By reducing its scope, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will retraces the band’s most rewarding challenge: tailoring their trademarked bouts of fury to compositions not necessarily designed for crescendo-hammering. Of course, to reach even that stage, the Scottish veterans required material with classical nuances and subtlety. That’s probably where The Hawk Is Howling lost its bite; by arming their structures with the sustenance to burden so many recurrent sonic blasts, Mogwai abandoned their elegance - the snap-shift beneath those dichotomies. Mr. Beast empowered itself by that standard, compelling each thoughtful whim to its natural peak or valley without arguing such a primitive consideration as volume, and this latest LP follows a similar mindset.

With that 2006 about-face as its closest relation, Hardcore... ventures back to small steps outside of a comfort zone that allows the occasional curveball. Showcasing the emotive weight Mogwai have been refining since Rock Action are tracks like ‘Death Rays’ and ‘Letters To the Metro’, which amble on the graces of their respectively rich backbones with a wide array of keys and, on the former in particular, a blast of organ and guitar. As ever, those pockets of reflective songwriting guide our eardrums back from the brink of annihilation, away from the perpetual riff of ‘Rano Pano’’s tempered ferocity and ‘Too Raging To Cheers’ climactic breakdown. Both of Mogwai’s well-trodden ends are hinted at in ‘White Noise’, with its romanced cloak of percolating arpeggios reaching skyward despite some trouble-making, dissonant plates shifting beneath.

Song titles aside, that last paragraph encapsulates the back-and-forth, restrained-then-epic trajectory of just about every Mogwai release, which is why Hardcore…’s odd moments deserve due mention. Some of these tracks sound decidedly un-Mogwai-ish; the vocoder-use in ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’ is only surprising because of its traditional verse-chorus layout, while ‘Mexican Grand Prix’, with robot-pitched vocal-snippets and krautrock rhythms, demonstrates the band’s continued maturity (yes, in spite of them calling a song ‘How To Be a Werewolf’).

Acquired tastes, perhaps, but Hardcore…’s demands are easy to adjust to, with even the most college-rock-ready moment (‘San Pedro’) fitting into the record’s mood after a few spins. As with Mr. Beast or Happy Songs For Happy People before that, this Sub Pop debut reaffirms Mogwai’s reputation as the most consistent and magnetic pillar in post-rock’s aging castle.

MOGWAI - Death Rays by Pias France

No comments: