Review Summary: The Scottish mood-rocker's unforgettable but rare debut is as powerful as anything they've ever released, and should be owned by any fan of post-rock or deep and breathy music as a whole.
Can an instrumental song tell a story? Sure, they can sort through emotions such as sad, angry, happy and so on, but how do they tell a tale of significance, grace, frustration or even roots-deep passion without ever saying a word? Impossible, you say? Well, let's talk...
Yes, words are very important for communication. They channel feelings and thoughts, generic comedic antidotes and hatred. The simple pronunciation of an identifiable syllable can mean the world to some. "Love" is a word that comes to mind that has such a death-grip on modern society and life. The simple, unintelligible muttering of the words "I love you" can change a persons life forever. But it also takes very little to help words of unrelated factors to bring out the emotions in others. I found myself mesmerized when I first read The Giver
, a now infamous book by Lois Lowry, about a black-and-white world that has the personality of a carpenter ant and the variation of macaroni and cheese. The gentle story of love and human interest is balanced by a disregard to the society that appears in the book, even without a word being spoken a thought can pop into your mind that reflects your position, feelings and thoughts on the completely distant literature. Does this apply to music? Can the simple strumming of a chord or the moaning of a dissonant and ambient keyboard make people feel or think? In many cases, the answer is yes. The weight and mood of the music is so epic and untouched by words that it can only bring out your relatable feelings to the song. Unoccupied with literature, poetic devices and rhyme schemes, instrumental music can weight almost heavier than a standard song because of it's ability to appeal to the listener beyond what another person's words can ever express.
Mogwai, a Scottish post-rock band bordering on influential infamy in the genre, could be credited a little with introducing instrumental music to a more marketable audience. Their stunning debut, a self-titled four song EP, has surfaced upon shelves in the past eight years as a re-released disc featuring two new songs. Yes, Mogwai are recognized as an instrumental band, and this debut is no different. The various sounds of melancholy are balanced with weighted bass and, to be perfectly honest, flashes of unbelievable beauty and intensity. The key to understanding this album is that it's a very quiet release. Ambient, no doubt, to a certain extent that one might have to be in a certain mood to fully enjoy it. There are but a few recognizable intruments played calmly throughout the album, the arppegiotic guitar, the understated piano, the deep and heavy bass and the stunningly held-back drums. Few moments ever journey past these four walls, but occasionally the eventual chaotic crunch of a guitar played with such brutal force hammers out of nowhere and captivates the listener.
No, the album isn't varied. No, it doesn't have the widest vocabulary of musical instruments, and no, there are no words spoken throughout the whole album. But nevertheless, the album can create as breathtaking an experience as any LP with vocals and pure directions of songs and their structures. On such tracks as Christmas Song
, the consistency of the rhythm section and the glacial beauty of the piano are almost unaccompanied, save for an occasional guitar plucking chords of unmeasurable simplicity but effectiveness, and I really can't complain. It's a relatively short song, but the band cram as much movement and direction as a song twice as long. Perhaps it's the simplicity of the song itself, but it's purely a powerful experience, no matter how simple it is. It's just, in a word, gorgeous. Merry Christmas, indeed.
The album presses on with this tone in mind - effective, minimalist songs that progress about as intensely as a marathon. The absolutely mind-boggling Rage: Man
knows it's limits and boundaries, but stretches out a bit and combines the most intense post-rock move out there, a blistering guitar solo, and adds it in with the calm, ambient and shimmering background music that is the song itself. Stretching on for a mere five minutes, Rage: Man
really couldn't have been longer or shorter, seeing as the length is perfectly suited to the attention span of the listener. The opener, Stanley Kurbrick
, is the perfect mood-setter for the album, preparing the listener for weighty and thought-provoking listens and almost over-whelmingly dark and sluggish music that echoes throughout. The combination of a distant and effect-laden guitar playing a simplistic hymn is paired up with the simple rhythm section of a mere bass and drums, but the result is far more breathtaking than one could expect from this trio of intstruments. It seizes your mind and fails to loosen it's grip.
However, the songs I frequently come back to are the longest. Burn Girl Prom Queen
clocks in at 8:31, and Small Children in the Background
which just falls shy of seven minutes. Both are extremely frigid songs; it appears for the longest time that they do not move or refuse to budge for the sake of installing intrigue and anxiety in the listener. Both songs have their climaxes; the incredible flood of noise in Children
keeps the listner on the edge of their seat for the whole duration of the song. The complete and utter fatige that is installed in the listener from Prom Queen
is brought by it's charming and almost un-intentional grace at the beginning that continues throughout the piece and never really picks up. Unappealing? On paper, sure, but the experience itself is exhausting and, though it doesn't come across as a pure rock epic, it's pretty damn close to perfection. Something about it just creeps on you and fails to let go for eight and a half minutes. Maybe it's the dizzying drone of the piano, or the steady waltz of the drums, but it's purely entrancing.
Yes, it's instrumental, but it's probably more moving than most music with words because you come up with your own story or examine situations you are in with a different light. The lack of vocals somehow make this an even more poetic listen than imaginable. The music itself is drop-dead gorgeous and simplistic, but extremely moving at the same time. Words cannot describe what feelings go on when this EP is playing, but there are few descriptions that come close. Exhausting, powerful and glacial are a few example. An almost perfect release is dragged down by it's short length and refusal to expand upon brilliant ideas, but what is availabe on this half-hour mini-epic is a completely wonderful listen that fans of music shouldn't miss. Highly recommended.