Mogwai rejects the "post-rock" label, but it fits them the best because of the rich textures they use to build songs in an evolving structure. They primarily play intense instrumental music, occasionally using vocals as another shade in their sonic palette. As last year's live concert DVD, Burning (review here), demonstrated, their loyal fans savor the cathartic blast of sound the band can bring.
Heavy as their music can be, they also bring a wry Scottish humor, with evocative titles like I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead. Their new CD throws down the gauntlet with the title, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. Of course, the irony is that Hardcore... is more thoughtful and restrained, especially in the first half. Those songs may offer less catharsis, but they're not lightweight by any means. The second half has enough of the classic Mogwai wall of sound to satisfy their fans, but this is the sound of a band confidently stepping off their own beaten path.
To prove this, several of the songs lay in a post punk vibe leavened with elements of electronic sounds. In particular, San Pedro is catchy as hell, sounding like instrumental Psychedelic Furs or Smithereens. In better world, this would be saturating the radio. On the more modern side, Mexican Grand Prix and George Square Thatcher Death Party evoke the Disco Biscuits, especially in their glitchy, processed vocal sounds. Mexican Grand Prix's Joy Division influence (think Transmission) throws in another dimension.
But the two best songs on the disc are Death Rays and You're Lionel Ritchie, which emphasize the contrast between Mogwai's sonic extremes. Death Rays starts with a moment of contemplation. It's a lighter sound, with a sweet combo of guitar picking and long organ chords. The mood shifts from reflective to stately procession. The only link to the title would be if the music were tied to a video showing a beautiful ballet of slow motion destruction. Then, about 2/3 in, the distorted guitar drone comes in... are these the death rays? Maybe so, but there's still a sense of calm, even as the last little bit of guitar static lingers at the end.
You're Lionel Ritchie starts with a soft, Pink Floyd trippiness, like Careful With That Axe, Eugene. The moody shift to another soft guitar arrangement section is typical of earlier Mogwai. It builds a sense of calm before a coming storm. The peaceful interlude breaks with a fuzzy build up into a grinding restatement of the original theme. The intensity ratchets into a raging, cathartic pounding. It finally subsides and lets the various parts fall away, leaving the soft echo of distorted guitar. This is classic Mogwai, suggesting God Speed You! Black Emperor.
Throughout Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, Mogwai deftly create sonic spaces that are evocative and interesting. The overall sound may be less heavy, but it's no less hardcore. This is already one of my favorite albums of the year. Pour a flagon of the Beast Grand Cru from Avery while you listen (everyone should have one aging in their cellar).