Tuesday, February 15, 2011

REVIEW: Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Over the course of 15 years, Scotland’s Mogwai have said more with sound than anyone ever could with the utterance of a single word, proving music truly is a language of universality. The band’s ability to convey so much with just a single note or a wall of controlled feedback is nothing short of breathtaking, and, on their seventh studio album, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, the case is no different. And while it’s clear that Mogwai has never been, and continues not to be, overly dramatic in intent with song titles like The Hawk Is Howling’s “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” or this album’s “You’re Lionel Ritchie,” there’s no denying the band’s expressive power; they can lift you to the skies or pummel you to the ground with a flex of their sonic muscle.

The photograph that graces the cover of Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is, intentionally or not, rather poetic and symbolic of the album’s mood. There’s an understated theme of man vs. nature at play, as on one side we see an active, congested city and on the other the brooding, dark onset of an impending storm – the trees even appear as though they’re consuming the architecture and life of the city. It’s hard to determine if any specific thematic meaning was attached to any one of the 10 songs that appear on the new album, but, both sonically and aurally, it sounds like Mogwai assumed the power of Mother Nature when making these songs.

Storms can bring forth death and rebirth in many ways; they can be filled with such unadulterated beauty; and they can also be disastrous, just absolutely ruthless. The arrangement of the 10 tracks here is reminiscent of passing storms: there are moments of gentle, calm beauty that either precede of follow moments of tough, distorted gloom. The transcendent opener “White Noise” progresses into the busier, multi-layered “Mexican Grand Prix,” with its synth loops, panned vocals, machine gun-quick hi-hat hits, and multitude of intertwining riffs. Just as it sounds like everything is about to burst at the seams, Mogwai wind “Mexican Grand Prix” down, setting up a perfect transition into standout “Rano Pano,” a storm of a song with dark clouds of distortion and fuzz that ascends into the center of the chaos to find a meditative harmony. After the clouds part, “Death Rays,” despite its grim title, sounds like the calm aftermath of the storm, as the sun begins to peer out from the head of the horizon. But, just like the unpredictability of storms, “Death Rays” soon becomes the calm before the storm as “San Pedro” kicks into gear with its downpour of tremolo picking and its frantic, anthemic army of guitar riffs that tear a hole in the sky. Album closer “You’re Lionel Ritchie” mixes the tranquility and chaos, progressing from delicate and ethereal to crushing and heavy.

Mogwai have always been a band that speaks in volumes both high and low, capable of crafting aggressive, heavy, sprawling soundscapes as well as more cinematic, downtempo moments. Simply put, Mogwai are a band about balancing the dark and light, the devastating and uplifting. It’s a testament to the band’s ability to transcend the boundaries of their instruments, creating something that is straightforward one moment and then blaringly, immeasurably powerful the next. They might very well be a rock band in the traditional sense with electric guitars, keys, bass, and drums, but they work outside the expected realms of these instruments, focusing more on mood, texture, and distinct, emotive auras than pop construction.

Not everyone will find Mogwai’s mastery of sound and mood all that engaging on Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, despite the band’s sharpened focus and sonic explorations. But, with Mogwai, it’s not so much what you hear as much as it’s about what you feel, whether it’s through the tones and textures or the dynamics of their riffs and progressions. The only song that lacks the same power as the others is the cleverly titled “George Square Thatcher Death Party.” Mogwai have admitted before that the addition of vocals to their music only occurs when they feel like the song is incomplete without them, but on this particular track, the autotuned vocals come across as more of afterthought than something that really rounds out the song’s character. It’s also the closest the band comes to a formulaic pop arrangement. The song itself is certainly not bad, but it doesn’t sound as strong placed next to the other nine tracks (autotune, as a vocal effect, has also been a bit overused the past couple of years throughout many genres).

If weather ever needed a soundtrack, Mogwai would be it, with their massive sound and boundless vision. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will might not be an album of actual hardcore music, but it is just as uncompromising, spirited, and mighty. Mogwai prove that sound is forever, that nothing resonates more in us than the sounds that capture the essence of how we feel. The title suggests that sound is bigger than us mortal humans, and that Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is Mogwai’s monument to sound’s influence in and on the life of the world. This is an album you can feel, even when it’s not playing through your ears – and that is the mark of something special.

Below you can check out an audio review of the album. It's a first here at Mixtape Muse, so let us know what you think.

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will Audio Review

MP3: Mogwai - "Rano Pano"
MP3: Mogwai - "San Pedro"

BUY: Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was released yesterday in Europe through the band's own Rock Action Records. It's out today in North America through Sub Pop. Pick it up on Amazon, Amazon MP3, iTunes, or direct from Sub Pop here.

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