Album Review | Arcade music takes listener on wild journey
Published: Monday, January 27, 2014
Updated: Monday, January 27, 2014 07:01
From the beginning of Mogwai’s “Rave Tapes,” it’s clear that the band has launched itself in a new direction. Channeling the same bombastic free-spiritedness of a ball in a pinball machine, the energetic and, at times, chaotic “Rave Tapes” is worth a listen. Somehow, the Scottish post-rock band is able to combine songs about rejecting the ideals of the media through spoken word with tracks that feel like the opening score of “Rocky” (1976). Indeed, for the adventurous listener, “Rave Tapes” is a journey worth taking.
The hypnotic opening track, “Heard About You Last Night,” eases listeners into the album. It feels like an ambient synth mix between David Bowie and Nirvana — a psychedelic introduction to a record that defies expectations and feels much more like a brave step into the future than a receding descent into the hits of yesteryear.
“Simon Ferocious,” the album’s second track, is deceptively easygoing at first before a pervasive beat of subtle percussion and a synthesizer emerge. Similar to songs from their previous album, “Les Revenants” (2013), the track is a moment of calm before the tumultuous path of electronica and pounding guitar that follows. Harder rock tracks like “Hexon Bogon” and “Master Card” also make their way on to the album, but manage to seamlessly blend electronic with rock and feel much lighter than would be expected for a mix of the two genres.
“Repelish” is an anomaly on “Rave Tapes.” Like a spoken word poem set to the beat of a steady bass, the track works through anti-satanic elements that are confusing, but still rapturous. The speaker of the poem seems to stand before a background of focused and streamlined syncopated beats, delivering lines about choosing for yourself in a world that seems to tell every young mind how they should feel before they feel it. The irony of the track is prevalent in its message — after all, it’s telling kids not to listen to the media through media. What could have been a failed experiment proves to be a rewarding song.
“Blues Hour” is one of the last tracks on the album that truly stands out. With the introduction of lead singer Stuart Braithwaite — whose voice makes almost no appearance on the record at all — “Blues Hour” is likely the group’s strongest piece, yet also their most divergent. Melancholy and roiling, the song is a minor tour-de-force — a subtly powerful track that creeps up on listeners. It pulls them into an underworld of the band’s creation, where nearly all use of electronic keyboards is abandoned, making for a much starker song than the majority of tracks on the album. It is here that Mogwai’s first-timer listeners will feel most comfortable, and where the band seems to effortlessly blend all aspects of their new sound.
The music on this “Rave Tapes” is understated and enchanting, in a dark rave-meets-cosmic-bowling-soundtrack kind of way. The use of guitar brings a harder, rougher dimension to what otherwise might have been a very syncopated electronica production. Thus “Rave Tapes” sounds like rave music that hung out with Slash for a day and then spent time at the arcade, studying the patterns of Pac-Man and the soundtrack of “Dance Dance Revolution.” The record shows Mogwai’s evolution; the group has moved away from the soft, chime-heavy sound of their previous work and morphed into something that is almost entirely electronic. Fans of the group’s earlier releases will either be entranced or repelled by this new step in Mogwai’s career. The turbulence of the soundtrack is tangible, and, at points, “Raves Tapes” feels unsure as to whether it should be rock or electronica or an album of poetry set to the theme music of Tetris. But “Rave Tapes” is so fun, so danceable, so introspective and so wildly open — ultimately, it is inviting enough to bring in skeptics and executed well enough to retain old fans.