Review Summary: What sounds to you like a big load of trashy old noise, is in fact, the brilliant music of a genius... Mogwai.
15 years since its release, Come On Die Young has held over its head an air of disappointment. It’s perceived as the less popular younger brother that can never quite escape the shadow of its movement-inducing sibling. Young Team is without a doubt an essential release, and pedestal in the post-rock genre. Upon closer examination, however, CODY has poked its head out of the abyss, smiling, with the knowledge that 1999 was the year that Mogwai released their magnum opus.
Things start off with a deceptively simple, yet highly emotive 2 minute blurb from Iggy Pop, supported by a wilting guitar line that’s hypnotic as it is attention-grabbing. It sets the tone for the entire album, with Mogwai turning really basic, but strikingly beautiful melodies into soundscapes that captivate, sedate, and transport the listener to a different state of mind than found on any other Mogwai release.
Voice sampling, subtle wind instrumentation, layered keyboards and electronica, and expert minimalism all serve to elevate Mogwai’s sound on CODY. Most importantly though, is the patience and timing that are showcased here. Songs like “May Nothing But Happiness…”, and “Christmas Steps” take the exact right amount of time to build to a climax, and alternatively fall from that climax. Really, every song that reaches 8 minutes does this, and each in their own unique way. The two I’ve mentioned slowly build to that crucial point, and carefully descend to that calm before the next piece is ushered in, and “Ex-Cowboy” and “Chocky” ebb and flow in and out of layers that even for CODY are impressive.
While CODY could’ve easily been thrown off balance by the 4 behemoth tracks at the back end of the album, the first 6 easily hold their own. The title track has a nostalgia unequalled, with Stuart Braithwaite’s vocals meshing superbly. “Helps Both Ways” has the best horns of the album (and excellent clarinet); and being recorded in stereo to great effect, with the winds flanking from left and right, the simple guitar can fill the empty spaces, and the football commentary ices the song in a delightfully odd way. “Year 2000…” is so meandering and dissonant at times it becomes more din than music, but is always saved from its own cacophony by that playful bass line and guitar interchange. “Kappa” is full of tension, and broods intensely without ever really going all out till that little spurt at about a minute left. Then the lovely “Waltz For Aidan” is planted firmly in the center of the album, offering the perfect respite before a thoroughly draining half hour.
Every little thing about CODY is so meticulously crafted; it can only be fully realized when listened to from start to finish, a bold move even for a band specializing in instrumentals. Even the intermissions (because they’re certainly not filler) hold a great power that demands complete attention. Album rock is challenging for all parties involved, but I would be hard-pressed to find a better example than Come On Die Young. After this effort Mogwai turned to a sound that could more easily be “thrown on”, with albums like Happy Songs For Happy People, Mr. Beast, and Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, certainly fitting the bill. Even Young Team had a few tracks that could hold their own as singles. But this is an album that truly is greater than the sum of its parts, even with parts that any band would be lucky to have made.