It was July of 2004 and my best friend and I headed to Chicago to the Curiosa Festival. We were psyched, man. The Cure, Interpol, The Rapture, and a bunch of other bands. Who cares who else was there? The Cure and Interpol, that’s all we needed to know. So we arrived in the early afternoon, headed to the beer garden and bought ourselves a guitar-shaped liter of some watered-down lite beer. We made our way to the stadium seats under the pavilion of the amphitheater and noticed immediately that the noise emanating from the stage had taken a sharp turn to the grating. No longer could we hear ourselves speak or think. There were four or five guys on stage creating this wall of noise. This shrieking flaming phoenix of noise began rising from the stage, filling every square inch of seat, concrete, dirt, and fence within the Tweeter Center. Pretty soon people were running from their spots directly in front of the stage clasping their hands over their naked ears. Blood began flowing from their earholes as if this sonic assault from a relatively underwhelming stage was liquifying their brains. I found it hard to breathe as if the squall from the Marshall amps and motionless guitars were thickening the air. It was a wave of dense, bright, razor wire-sharp noise that I’d never heard the likes of before. I turned to my best friend to see if we should exit the place before it imploded but it was too late. He’d succumbed to the nuclear blast of Marshalls and Gibsons and was lying on the beer-stained floor of the seemingly harmless amphitheater; his guitar-shaped liter of warm lite beer snapped in half from the seizure he’d endured. He was foaming at the mouth, what looked to be grey matter seeping from his earholes and a mixture of Miller Lite and urine staining the front of his cargo shorts. I knew I was going to have to carry him out in order to save what little bit of sanity and brains he had left. I began pulling him by his Curiosa Festival Tour shirt up the aisle to possible safety. All he could do was stare up at me, eyes half crossed, guyliner running down his cheeks, saying something that sounded like “Moebye…moebye…moebye.” I think he’d had a stroke by the droop in his left eye and left side of his mouth. Before I could get us to row B in the upper section of the amphitheater the aural assault suddenly stopped. Silence reigned in the former World Music Theater, the only noise was the ringing in our collective ears. Pretty soon someone came to the stage and said “Give it up for Scotland’s Mogwai!” I looked down at my urine-soaked best friend, he smiled at me with a tooth missing(how’d he lose a tooth?) and said “Mogwai…Mogwai…Mogwai.”
And so began my introduction to Mogwai.
Rave Tapes is the newest album from Mogwai, the Scottish five-piece that are known for their extreme volumes, intense guitar workouts, and post-rock soundscapes. It seems that a good portion of their original fans have been disappointed with their last few years of musical output. “It’s not like Rock Action.” “Why can’t they go back to Come On Die Young?” Well, to them I say grow up. If you don’t like the new stuff, then listen to the old stuff and let Mogwai grow. Let them spread their post-rock wings and find new sounds, new trips, new sonic explorations. Ever since 2008s The Hawk Is Howling Mogwai have been refining their sound. They’ve been expanding the musical palette, if you will. Even before that. Even back with Rock Action and Come On Die Young the band wasn’t always about the guitar bombast and intense noise assaults. They’ve always toyed with analog synths, wavering square waves, and 80s soundtrack vibes. With 2011s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will and then last year’s Les Revenants( a soundtrack to the French TV series of the same name) they took the moody, dire sound they’d toyed with all along even further. Now with Rave Tapes I feel they’ve gone “all in”, as it were. They’ve embraced those warm analog synths, moody gothic moods, and 80s soundtrack vibe and have created one of their warmest and complete records to date. Sure, I may be in the minority with this opinion and that’s okay. I’m more comfortable that way.
“Heard About You Last Night” opens the album and pretty much sets the stage for the rest of the record. It’s really quite a lovely song, carried by a simple synth part, bass, clean guitar, and quiet drums. These guys should continue down the path of film scoring and Danny Boyle should call them immediately. “Simon Ferocious” is up next and keeps the sunshine firmly planted on the proceedings. Warm, bubbly synths percolate along as the rhythm section of Dominic Aitchison and Martin Bulloch create a steady rumble which the rest of the band can move freely and create moody sonic movements. “Remurdered” gets darker quickly, with a sound reminiscent of both John Carpenter’s Christine soundtrack and Cliff Martinez’ work with Nicolas Winding Refn. You can almost see those neon lights flickering and reflecting off of a car hood as it drives down Wilshire Boulevard. “Hexon Bogon” brings back some of the louder moments of “The Hawk Is Howling”, while “Repelish” adds a spoken-word piece about Devil worship and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” as the band plays eerie, rolling music behind it. “Deesh” is a gothic-sounding, beautiful track that brings side two up a notch or two, while “No Medicine For Regret” is very reminiscent of some of those classic 70s Italian horror movie soundtracks by Walter Rizzati. “The Lord Is Out Of Control” ends this pretty amazing album like a cross between Vangelis, Giorgio Moroder, and the band’s own masterpiece “Scotland’s Shame”.
I’ve said my peace. I think Rave Tapes is a shining spot on Mogwai’s already stellar musical discography. You’d be doing yourself a disservice writing this one off. Give it another spin. Or five.
8.6 out of 10
Editor’s Note: The above-mentioned story regarding the Curiosa Festival actually happened, with some creative license taken by the author for entertainment purposes only. No Mogwai fans were harmed in the making up of that story, nor were any guitar-shaped liters of piss warm beer.