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rock action
Rock Action

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In the last few years, an aristocracy of sorts has risen above the huddled masses of musicians, its members taking their places in the hallowed pantheon of indiedom. Their names are familiar: Modest Mouse, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Built to Spill and The Flaming Lips, to name just a few. With the release of their third full-length, Rock Action, you may now add Glaswegian post-art-rock maestros Mogwai to that short but distinguished list.

It's been two long years since we've heard anything new from Mogwai, and during that time the band has once again re-evaluated and re-formatted their shared musical vision. Named after a song by punk icon Iggy Pop, Rock Action is actually closest in spirit to the bandís altogether more mellow 1998 offering, Come on Die Young -- though at times it allows us a glimpse of the distortion-ravaged Mogwai of old. As with CODY, the omnipresent Dave Fridmann has handled production duties on Rock Action -- and true to form, he has wrenched some truly beautiful and moving sounds out of the band.

The album opens with the perplexing sound tapestry of "Sine Wave". Layers of chiming guitars ebb and flow over blankets of astral distortion and thundering drums as the song slowly unravels, revealing itself to be both extremely caustic and immensely poignant. The breathtakingly serene "Take Me Somewhere Nice" follows, wherein Mogwai leader/guitarist Stuart Braithwaite engages in a bout of "proper" singing with a little help from Papa M himself, David Pajo. Sounding not unlike his fellow countryman (and Arab Strap impresario) Aidan Moffatt, Braithwaite coos like a man who has just discovered true love. He's backed by somber cello and a ghastly electronic drone. A lovely piece of incidental music, "0 1 Sleep", follows, segueing directly into the morose meditations of "Dial: Revenge". Featuring Welsh-language vocals courtesy of Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys, "Dial: Revenge" slowly drives itself into the ground -- Braithwaite & Co. methodically weave a noose from strands of translucent guitar, somber strings and minimal percussion, then slip it around the unsuspecting Rhysí neck.

However, nothing that comes before can prepare you for the sheer aural onslaught of "You Donít Know Jesus", an epic, sprawling eight-minute tour-de-force that finds Mogwai clawing their way out of the darkness, searching for any tiny glimmer of hope that might happen to cross their path. Guitars wail and beats become frenzied and cathartic as basslines punch their way through the abyss, crashing into an open space filled with searing white light and the most intense heat imaginable. Though this leaves them as breathless and staggering as the rest of us, the band continues onward towards the celestial battlefield of "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong". Filled with huge harmonic swells, moody dissonance and subtly employed blips and bleeps, "2 Rights..." finds Mogwai at their creative zenith, creating a sound more lovely than the moon, the Earth and the stars combined. If I ever had to choose a soundtrack for the end of the world, it would most certainly be this.

If all of this seems a bit overwhelming, donít worry -- I'm still a little caught up in the record. After you've listened to Rock Action for the first time, you may be hard pressed to believe that Mogwai merely wrote these songs; you'll feel as if they created these symphonies out of thin air, pulling gorgeous sounds from within the deepest recesses of the human soul. Eventually you'll come back down to earth and realize that Rock Action is by no means divine...but it is very, very good. With it, Mogwai have proven themselves to be a band to admire, to fear and, most importantly, to cherish.

-- Jason Jackowiak
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