Release Date: 19 Feb 2021
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It seems that I was just reviewing a Mogwai album last week, ZeroZeroZero, but it turns out to be last April. Time is a speedy critter nowadays. That wasn't a regular studio release, though; it was the soundtrack to a show on Amazon Prime. This is a regular studio release, their first since Every Country's Sun in 2017, and it may well be the first that I've heard. I'm learning a lot about post-rock but haven't had a lot of chance to go back and discover the founders and the classics and how the genre developed.
My favourite post-rock is very visual, in that the soundscapes conjure up images for me. This isn't one of those albums but I like it anyway. These pieces of music play more like moods to me, maybe because I'm hearing influences and they're flavouring the experience for me. For instance, the opener, which is imaginatively titled To the Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth, feels like Joy Division to me and that's enough to generate a mood. It's not entirely depressing, because the brightness is turned up a little, so more Love Will Tear You Apart than the second half of Closer.
Often the mood includes perkiness, either through the beat or through the electronic blips that coast over some of the songs. Here We, Here We, Here We Go Forever is just insufferably upbeat, but others have more depth. Dry Fantasy is like the start to a beautiful day, if you're a morning person, the fresh discovery after a long night of sunlight, birds and flowers and an abiding feeling that all is right with the world, but there's a little darkness underneath it like the moving shade.
To my mind, the best pieces here are the ones that mix those moods without anything feeling wrong. I particularly like Midnight Flit, which counters all the perky blips with dark undertones, brooding and menacing. That contrast is magnetic. The final track, It's What I Want to Do, Mum, fosters a real cloud of sadness out of clean notes and soft swirling keyboards, but there's hope littered through it and it's always building. The title suggests that the hope won out in the end but perhaps never entirely. There are interesting edges in Drive the Nail and Ceiling Granny too.
I have to mention the odd song out because it's a really odd song out, though it wouldn't be on a lot of albums because it's the most normal song here, not least for having vocals. It's Ritchie Sacramento and it's very good, a mid eighties British indie pop song but with what would no doubt have been an overly primitive artificial backbeat replaced by a submerging in texture. Maybe some of the bands of the day would have written Ritchie Sacramento had they had 2021 equipment, but maybe this is more than just a progression of technology; it's a progression in songwriting too.
I liked this album, which played well while I was running reports at work. It's good background music but it kept grabbing my attention at odd points to highlight something new and interesting that I'd missed earlier. What it didn't do was blow me away, as the tenth album by a band who helped bring a focus to the nascent post-rock genre. I think I'd like to hear Mogwai write longer songs with more and broader dynamic play. And, the thing is, I think that's what they used to do. I should find out.
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