Review Summary: It may be stern and unwelcoming, but don’t let it deter; a serious face masks a seriously impressive construction of an album.
Perhaps more than anything else, ‘Come On Die Young’ is like listening to the thought-stream whirl by. There’s a continuity of intimate fluctuations and movements that give the abstract-yet-tangible impression of being situated among someone else’s brain movements. Take, for example, ‘Christmas Steps’ – an indecision of delicate, sparse aura finds a rhythm and purpose in a bass throb gathering velocity, and in a steady, determined inclination of tempo; it’s a sound of hardening resolve and gathering courage, thereafter breaking into a rage of action, before dimming into echoes of a self-conscious aftermath. It’s a story in thought and feeling. Or look at ‘Helps Both Ways’, where the concept is simply that of tuning into a game of American football but only half-watching, the instrumentation taking precedence over the commentary like a particularly obtrusive thought competing for the brain’s attention. The interplay of gradients between the conscious, the semi-conscious and the dreaming levels of both mind and emotions are the best metaphor, perhaps even the inspiration, for this grouping of subtly-nuanced, flawlessly paced and heavily atmospheric expressions.
While there is indeed this highly conceptual interconnection in the nature of the album, it is made accessible through a simplicity and finesse of instrumentation; whilst there is the occasional synthesizer and sound machine making a cameo, the main cast stars restrained guitars finding melody in distinct, singular-note patterns and a percussion section that takes responsibility for the powering of crescendos and overall dictation of pace. These, fuzzing above a good kilogram-meter-square of reverberating, earphone-vibrating atmospheric density, gives Mogwai a melancholic, distinctly reserved yet potentially awe-inspiringly powerful post-rock thematic that they can truly call their own. However, the non-prevalence of cut-and-thrust outside of this slender palette can be as much of a hindrance as it is a success. The newcomer may find himself confronted by an off-putting repetition in style, with little invitation and less inclination to grasp (or even find) a proverbial handle on the music. Whilst today I could hardly accuse ‘Come On Die Young’ of being a boring album, first impression were somewhat discouraging.
That said, there is some incentive for persistence to be sound; notably so in ‘Ex-cowboy’, the most forceful and eminent track, if simply by being the most spectacular crescendo (indeed, double crescendo) on the album. From a deceptively docile recurring chord erupts forth a devastation of sheer noise, leaving first calm in its wake before a pyroclastic flow of sound-barrier-shattering discord. It’s breathtaking; and what’s more, it is the act of the album finally opening up to any unconvinced listener, brandishing an invitation to listen again and to expect to more. ‘Come On Die Young’ is a joy of discovery; promising from the beginning, but ever more rewarding with attunement to it’s stream of consciousness. Immerse yourself, and it is a wholly immersive experience.