I had a rough first start with Mogwai. My initial introduction to Mogwai was the Curiosa Festival back in 2004. I thought I was going to be decimated in the spot I stood in the pavilion of the World Music Theater by the sheer volume that emanated from the stage. It was a kind of pained loudness that comes from out-of-control freight trains, hydrogen bomb explosions, and crowd surges at Black Friday sales. It took me six more years before I gave the Scottish post-rock outfit another shot and that shot was their 2008 album The Hawk Is Howling. Turns out, their albums are quite pleasing. Lots of guitar and mood, but not the pained guttural explosions I witnessed years before. I was hooked.
Since 2008, Mogwai have turned out great albums like Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will and Rave Tapes, as well as dabbling in soundtrack work with the likes of Les Revenants, Atomic, and Before The Flood. Mogwai have returned with new album Every Country’s Sun, and it could be their best album in years. They’ve reunited with Rock Action producer Dave Fridmann and their sound is all the better for it. This is the loudest and brashest the band has sounded in a very long time.
Now even though Fridmann has returned to the producing chair, that doesn’t mean Mogwai are all loud and blowing speakers left and right. They are just as known for more contemplative and vast songs that illicit daydreams and big ideas. “Coolverine” is one of those tracks. It opens the album properly, with pensive synth, brittle guitar, and very pronounced drums. It sounds like the calm before the storm. “Party In The Dark” is as uptempo as Mogwai gets, complete with robotic vocals and a driving rhythm section that sounds as much like Bear In Heaven as Scottish post-rockers. “Brain Sweeties” has a overwhelming feel to it. It’s like a behemoth of a song that slowly builds itself up to the sky. It puts me in mind of their excellent “Scotland’s Shame” from The Hawk Is Howling. Songs like this are what keep me coming back. “Crossing The Road Material” shows evidence of Fridmann’s tinkering, as the song feels like it’s being performed about 3 feet in front of you. There’s a dreamy quality here, but still a visceral one as the drums begin to crackle with life before your very ears. “aka 47” is all warm synths and heady atmosphere. Quite engaging stuff.
Elsewhere, “Battered at a Scramble” sounds like early 90s alternative, in-particular Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins with its fuzzy guitar and Chamberlain-approved drums. This is probably the most joyously-rocking track Mogwai have put to tape in years. “Old Poisons” gets even heavier thanks to Fridmann’s sonic magic and guitar noise similar to a Sonic Youth/Polvo love-in. “Every Country’s Sun” closes out the set in epic, grand style.
I don’t quite have the history with Mogwai as a lot of folks, so I feel strange saying this album sounds like the best thing they’ve done in years. There’s a presence here that seems to have been lacking in previous LPs. Their soundtrack work is there to serve a particular story, not necessarily the band’s vision. And the last couple proper Mogwai albums have been more on the atmospheric side, as opposed to being more rock and/or roll. Every Country’s Sun seems to have found a beautiful balance between Hardcore’s indifference, Rave Tapes’ electronic leanings, and the classic guitar-heavy early days. The band sounds loose and open to whatever happens when the tape starts rolling. Dave Fridmann opened Tarbox up for the Glasgow boys to let the amps buzz and the ideas float off one another. Every Country’s Sun sounds like possibilities becoming something more.
8.2 out of 10