Mogwai return with their tenth album of their career (including a pair of soundtrack albums). These days, the scarifying blasts of noise that used to be their calling card are mostly gone. The largely instrumental Scottish band have honed and toned their songwriting over the years to reach their by now trademark brooding, glowering brand of rock, allowing them to soundtrack last years’ French TV series Les Revenants. A Mogwai album called Rave Tapes, therefore, will not be guaranteed to get you up bopping.
Heard About You Last Night opens with a ghostly keyboard pattern before the familiar slow-building guitars enter the mix, backed by soothing, alien synth pulses, for their strongest album opener since 2008’s I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead. The prominence of keyboards on several tracks, such as Simon Ferocious calls to mind the aforementioned Les Revenants soundtrack.
The malevolent, electronic Remurdered raises the intensity, a close-set pattern of keyboards developing into the only track on the album that could possibly incite a rave. Whether working mainly with guitars (Hexon Bogon, Master Card) or keyboards (No Medicine For Regret) the band turn in classic Mogwai-sounding tracks. Repelish has a voiceover discussing the dubious merits of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and the supposed satanic messages contained within, while dark keyboards pulsate through Deesh.
Occasionally Mogwai like to ‘treat’ listeners to a vocal turn. Blues Hour is the closest thing to a conventional song here, Stuart Braithwaite singing downbeat lyrics about “train lines going nowhere”, over snail-paced keyboards. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Cody from much earlier in their career. It works better than the final track The Lord Is Out of Control, which comes off as strangely unsatisfying due in no small part to the distractingly over-vocodered vocal.
A Mogwai album just like the last few? Well, more or less. But we are certainly not entering the realm of diminishing returns with this band. This is ‘grown-up’ music, ie music for grown ups, not those who’ve given up.