Review Summary: Over-milking the same exhausted formula while stubbornly refusing to allow any major overhaul in their sound, Mogwai seem as predictable as ever. Yet somehow they have overcome this ailment and released an album which is both fun and intriguing.
One year before the release of post-rock milestone F#A# Infinity, a group of Scotsmen quietly crafted a quirky and different album, releasing it under the radar by a strange name: "Mogwai". The year was 1997, and it was an era dominated by radio rock and 90s hip-hop. However, under the radar a different genre of music was beginning to flourish. Relying on dynamic contrast, texture, and emotion over hooks and lures, it would develop a devoted following of more “elite” listeners. This style is one which Mogwai would come to reject with a passion, and rightfully so. Of the most prominent bands in the scene such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mono, and Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai sounds like none of these. For years Mogwai has been lumped in with the bulk of musical acts, and though they have become well-known in their field, the audience has failed to understand the identity of the band.
Sixteen years after formation, Mogwai are still not understood. The label of post-rock is still haphazardly slapped on their music and audiences dismiss it without wrapping their heads around the identity of the band. Mogwai is a band that survives by doing things differently, composing quirky and fascinating music without the need for a vocalist. They feed off their own unwavering and stubborn persistence, as well as public skepticism.
“Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will” is outing number seven from Mogwai. This girl is now raging through her adolescent years, and well, it’s concerning. It seems as if Mogwai is desperately trying to say something, but their voices are drowned out as they try to keep their ship from sinking. Over-milking the same exhausted formula while stubbornly refusing to allow any major overhaul in their sound, Mogwai seem as predictable as ever. Yet somehow they have overcome this ailment and released an album which is both fun and intriguing.
Opening track “White Noise” is bright and cheery. It gives an atmosphere of hope; the lone apocalypse survivor watching the rising sun, coming to realize that everything will be okay. In ausual Mogwai fashion, guitars buzz and layers of effects stack up, layer by layer, to produce on immense sound. This first track outlines the whole of the album perfectly, one which builds on singular notions and constructs an environment around them. This is a formula which Mogwai have relied on heavily throughout their existence. Though exhausted, this format still works for the band. The flipside is that there are few shining numbers on this album, with most tracks feeling like reiterations of the same idea, just in a different voice.
Even so, this is not an album breaker. Mogwai want you to feel this way about their music. The album must be taken as a whole, as retelling of the universal idea from different viewpoints; walks down the same path but in different shoes. The lack of standout tracks results in a more complete album. Songs transition naturally between upbeat tunes with gruff bass lines and more reserved numbers featuring delicate piano. Letters to the Metro is a great example of the latter. It ebbs and flows, with buzzing guitars washing over a core of piano (reminiscent of Mr. Beast) with a solo guitar line strikingly similar to something Explosions in the Sky would write. Over-distorted guitars seem to be a new focus for Mogwai. They are used not for dynamic contrast or overbearing riffs, but for sonic texture.
Hardcore Will Never Die flows like an autobiography detailing the many walks of a band. It draws on past elements, such as the swelling dynamics and singular idea formats of past albums. Though it is very predictable, some new elements are in place. The gruff bass lines are new and interesting enough. Through all of this Mogwai keep their ship afloat despite verging on beating a dead horse. Mogwai has thrived on working outside the norm and does not care if their music leads them places where the audience cannot follow. It is as much of a personal affair to them as it is to the listener. Like the quiet kid in the back of class, one might dismiss the band as something boring and out of touch, but if they make the effort, they could find a great friend.