Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 35)
I live just a few miles south of downtown Chicago. My school is located right in the heart of the Loop. For those of you who don’t live here, trust me when I say that driving is not an option. I would either be forced to barter a kidney for a parking spot or simply throw on the flashers and leave the vehicle in the middle of the street. So I make the journey via bike, its 30 minutes to get there and 30 minutes to get back. I don’t mind, it’s the perfect opportunity to listen to Mogwai’s unimpeachable Young Team
with the passing buildings the perfect venue.
Thing is, I almost didn’t even listen to Young Team
. My preferred genre is pop music. I like my hooks clearly telegraphed, I like my songs short, and I like my vocalists high in the mix. Young Team
is none of those things. The only post-rock album I’ve ever liked is Ágætis byrjun
and I haven’t listened to that in years. So when I first loaded Young Team
into my iTunes library, I balked. “There’s a 12 minute song on this and it’s the second longest song on here
!” I thought to myself incredulously. My first listen unveiled nothing else of interest, the first song was a bore and the second was actively annoying. I came very close to deleting the album.
The album begins with a girl reading a gloriously over the top article a fan wrote about the bands performances. “If someone said that Mogwai are the stars I would not object,” she reads, barely stifling a laugh, “If the stars had a sound it would sound like this.” By taking the piss out of their own music right off the bat, Mogwai disarms the listener by letting them know their in on the over the top “tears of God” reputation post-rock caries with it. It makes the ensuing album much more human. Spoken dialogue continues to appear to reinforce this idea - a phone call on “Tracy”, the enthusiastic count off beginning “A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters” – all used to remind the listener that this album was crafted by people, people that get parking tickets and get into arguments. Not mythical beings sent from the stars.
The turning point for me came when I started using Young Team
as bike fuel. “Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home” stirs with grace and patience. A gently thrumming bassline that remains just forceful enough to keep the songs momentum but not too much to pushes the rowboat from shore while guitar and bells twinkle like the sun off of slow rolling waves. But that only gets me so far, the 18th Street bridge is the bane of my commute, luckily “Yes!” always gets to its epic climax right at the beginning of my ascent, guitarist Stuart Braithwaite comes down on a distortion pedal and the whole song goes rocketing skywards, triggering a surge of adrenaline that levels off in tandem with the song as it comes to rest in the same oasis it started at.
Every song on Young Team
is infused with this same sense of patience. These guys are in no hurry to get to the climax of these songs, each has plenty of time to fully work out the crevices of their movements. There is no better example of this than on “Tracy”. At just shy of 8 minutes, “Tracy” moves slowly and methodically. Drummer Martin Bulloch plays like he’s afraid to wake the neighbors, lightly tapping each drum. A simple guitar/glockenspiel melody chimes through the piece, each repetition more beautiful than the last. Then, the melodic refrain cuts out for three minutes of ambient guitar noise, slowly bleeding out as the song comes to a close. Amazingly, this outro doesn’t feel indulgent in the slightest, it allows the band to work out the full span of its melodic ideas; it’s hard to imagine the song without it.
It’s another 30-minute bike ride back from school and with rush hour traffic kicking in around that time it can take longer. Most days, I make it in less than 20 minutes. That’s because I’m listening to “Mogwai Fear Satan” and I’m also actively putting my health in danger by doing so. With it’s pounding, primal drumbeat driving a relentless guitar line, “Mogwai Fear Satan” has me hopping curbs, threading pedestrians, and running red lights with equal parts reckless abandon and giddy thrill. Just as the song reaches what feels like it’s epic climax, the band falls back and a flute is deployed as – just like in My Bloody Valentine’s “What You Want” – aural katana. It slices clean through the mix, rising above the maelstrom with enough authority as to bring a hushed awe to the track. It’s a heart-stoppingly beautiful moment, but it only lingers for an instant as the guitar monstrously wells up again and annihilates it along with the rest of the band. That the flute is reborn once more in final victory out of this wreckage, it makes a claim made much earlier in the album seem much less absurd. If someone said Mogwai were the stars, I would not object.