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splendid > reviews > 7/21/2003
Mogwai
Mogwai
Happy Songs for Happy People
Matador


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Killing All the Flies"

Buy me now
In music, maturity is as much a blessing as it is a curse. Though the masses generally view maturity as an commendable attribute within the confines of day-to-day living, a band's maturity isn't always greeted with such fervent zeal. For the past six years, Glaswegian supernova-mongers Mogwai have moved further and further away from the harsh dynamic thrust of Young Team, choosing instead to craft spectral lullabies that teem with claustrophobic paranoia and mellifluous desire. While that might not constitute maturity in its truest sense, the compositional vernacular that informs Mogwai's songwriting has undoubtedly undergone a metamorphosis as they've come of age as a unit.

It wouldn't be all that surprising to find legions of folks apathetic toward Mogwai; after all, boiled down to its basest elements, Happy Songs for Happy People is little more than post-Godspeed You Black Emperor! post-rock. While that fact alone will compel some to worship at its altar, those who've witnessed first-hand the band's evolution from gauche metallic noiseniks to instrumental elder statesmen may not be impressed by the fact that Mogwai has simply released another album. Although the tectonic roar that characterized the band's earliest work bubbles beneath the surface of tracks like "Killing All the Flies" and "Ratts of the Capital", Happy Songs for Happy People clearly sprung from the same dour well that produced Come On Die Young and Rock Action.

The album title might conjure images of surrealistic pillows, spilled summer lemonade and merry children's sing-a-longs, but the elegiac mood that permeates Happy Songs for Happy People suggests that the quintet's success has come at a great price. The sad incantations of "I Know You Are But What Am I?" recall Joy Division's dolorous swell, the cacophonous "Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep" writhes about on translucent guitars and a soft Stuart Braithwaite vocal, and the chorally beautiful "Moses? I Amn't" is almost apologetic in its distillation of subdued heavy metal riffs and pious theatrics. Though the group largely downplays their skull-splitting excesses, their songs resonate with a fury that a lifetime worth of broken power-chords couldn't match.

Nobody ever said that success on one's own terms doesn't come without a great deal of sacrifice and personal pain. Listening to Happy Songs for Happy People, you can't help but sense that this is the sound of a band coming to terms with what they are, who they are, and what it is they represent -- not only in the grand scheme of music, but in the broader spectrum of life as well.



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