Mogwai’s latest: Loud? Yes, but not lacking in subtlety

Mogwai

The Hawk is Howling

Matador CD OLE 83202

I have Badaboom Gramophone, the now-inactive zine run by Ben Goldberg (head honcho at Bada Bing Records) to thank for turning me on to Mogwai. The exquisitely outsider dystopian post-rock described in a review run in the magazine made me head for the nearest indie record-seller (Vintage Vinyl in Fords) to seek out any of their back catalogue I could lay my mitts on. Since then, the Glasgow band has gained more notoriety for the amplitude of their live shows – they have been dubbed the “world’s loudest band” by various sources – than the quality of their music-making.

True, Mogwai has no compunctions about playing really, really loudly when inspired to do so. But to emphasize the fortissimos alone belies the sense of subtlety and dynamic shading that is also present, even prevalent, on their latest release for Matador Records: The Hawk is Howling. Often, on tracks such as “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” and “Daphne and the Brain,” the band adheres to the now-traditional accumulative arrangements of post-rock, building an achingly slow long crescendo from pianissimo murmurs to a thunderous climax. But other pieces break out of this broad formal outline to explore different compositional structures.

“Local Authority” is a lush reverie, rife with keyboards and sustained guitar tones. On the other hand, “The Sun Smells too Loud” puts a chugging groove, a dash of jangling guitars, and positively riff-like leads front and center. Mogwai’s take on the propulsive will hardly be confused with lightness – there’s still a great many textural layers and fulsome exultation at the piece’s climax. But along the way it’s heartening to hear all the various marvelous sonic hues Mogwai can evoke when they hold some of that power in reserve.

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