Review Summary: Contributing to the monotony of the genre they hate.
Multiple ironies surround Mogwai's latest album, The Hawk Is Howling
. First, and more obvious, there is an eagle instead of a hawk on the cover, and it is not “howling.” Do birds ever howl? Second and more importantly, the band who refuse to describe themselves as post rock have made a thoroughly consistent post rock album that follows all the modern trends, and unlike Young Team
or Come On Die Young
, follows the pack rather than leads. Thus, the band that reinvigorated a genre it hates now follows all the stereotypical faults of that genre, except they do it better than just about everyone else. “I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead” proves this point immediately, a gorgeous opener that grows perfectly, with no jagged ridges in intensity.
When Mogwai releases a new album, everyone tries to relate it back to their previous discography, but six albums in, most have learned that Mogwai quickly forgets their past and forges something new. The difference between Mr. Beast
and The Hawk Is Howling
may not lay so much in sound but in structure, as Mr. Beast
condensed everything into digestable nuggets while The Hawk Is Howling expands upon everything. At the end, the album extends over an hour's length. Tracks like “Scotland's Shame” and “I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School” brew with quiet intensity and reach their climaxes with surprising restraint, perhaps a trick learned from Come on Die Young
. Unlike their previous albums, The Hawk Is Howling does not introduce a new sound to the band, but blends many techniques from their past into one. Electronica leads some songs like “Danphe and the Brain” while “Batcat” recalls the heavier aspects of Mr. Beast
Unfortunately, the resulting mixture creates an album unfocused rather than well-varied. With some songs reliant on catharsis and others reliant on beauty and tone, the listener has to constantly stay engaged to figure out the music, even if the music is not that engaging (see: “Local Authority”). The variety becomes more confusing when some songs like “Thank You Space Expert” need a climax of some sort have none. For the first time in their career, Mogwai has created an album of songs rather than creating songs that together create an album. For that reason, the songs on The Hawk Is Howling really work better individually than together. “I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead” and “Batcat” are both some of Mogwai's better songs, but placing them back to back is just awkward for the listener. “The Sun Smells Too Loud”, while the freshest song on the album, comes completely out of nowhere, and nothing anywhere near its sound comes later on the album. Despite its newer sound, the song itself is not very good anyway. The Hawk Is Howling
has variety of the wrong kind – unfocused and illogical.
Perhaps Mogwai need to reinvent themselves somehow. Their soundtrack for Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
sounded uninspired, and now The Hawk Is Howling
is just an ambiguous mixture of the band's past. In scientific terms, Mr. Beast is a solution while The Hawk Is Howling
is a colloid – a mixture of substances that doesn't actually mix, like vinegar and water. In today's musical culture, simply completing six full length albums is a feat, but the compositional well may be running dry for Mogwai. For now, just listen to the Young Team