Scottish quintet’s seventh studio LP forgoes fiery riffs for melodic accessibility.
Mike Diver 2011-02-01
A provocative title, an opening track called White Noise: surely, say all on-paper signs, this is a return to the squall of old, to the tumult and turbulence that characterised the finest moments of Mogwai’s early catalogue. Not so, it turns out, as such signifiers are red herrings, distracting expectation away from where it should be, from measured maturity to reckless tinnitus. Now at studio album number seven, it’s actually more likely that that the Scottish quintet have eased off the accelerator a little. And that’s precisely what they have done, with Hardcore… perhaps their most wonderfully understated, delightfully melodic offering yet.
Of course, there is noise where it needs to be – closer You’re Lionel Richie can’t maintain a straight face for its full duration, and eventually cracks under the unseen force of cloaked amplifiers which dismantle a hypnotic riff into crackling debris. But, mostly, this is a set best suited for quiet moments of contemplation. Letters to the Metro could be combustive – its title hints at volatile subject matter, of angry words published to rally against another reader’s point of view – but it saunters, unhurried, a guitar’s waning moan the sole hook to hang on to as all around gentle chimes and barely there percussion play their background roles. Mexican Grand Prix is rather more lively, its motorik groove a nod to both Krautrockers past and the band’s own-label (Rock Action) labelmates, Errors; distorted vocals punch through the mix, the overall effect something close to the ghost of Mark Linkous guesting on a Kraftwerk record. Rano Pano, meanwhile, is the sort of cyclical composition solely designed to throw one’s grasp of time into the ether.
White Noise is the tone-setter – guitars set to dance among the stars rather than drill down to the very depths of Hell. But Hardcore… isn’t as one-dimensional as a record full of similarly paced, primarily instrumental tracks usually proves to be. The reason: its makers are (while not exactly long in the tooth, individually) master craftsmen when it comes to this variety of rock (choose, and use, your own prefix). Guitarist Stuart Braithwaite is only 34; Mogwai’s debut album, the aptly titled Young Team, was released in 1997. Band and its members, and their music, have grown up together, without any externally engineered agenda to pursue. So while Hardcore… is a shift of speed, downwards, it’s only a gear change rather than a signal that the whole journey’s coming to an end. It’s not, and with these guys at the controls one can only imagine where they’ll have taken us in another 14 years.