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
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.