Rave Tapes marks Scottish, Indie post-rockers Mogwai’s eighth full length effort, and their most electronically orientated record so far.
Produced by Paul Savage (The Delgados), and recorded at Castle of Doom studios in Glasgow, it seems like business as usual for the John Peel favourites, but Mogwai’s Rave Tapes is anything but fodder for the dance floor. The Scottish alternative rock group has made a career out of instrumental doom and gloom, and by this stage their sonic niche is firmly established. This is not to say that Rave Tapes, the band’s eighth studio release, is a complacent record, just that it is stamped with all the hallmarks of a Mogwai album, and punctuated by a few subtle innovations. As usual, the band methodically craft soundscapes, evoking moods and textures rather than relying on accessible elements of song structure. Distorted, chugging guitars still characterise the spacious compositions that the band so aptly create, but the addition of electronic elements proves that Mogwai’s sound hasn’t stagnated.
The haunting opener ‘Heard About You Last Night’ is arguably the album’s most compelling offering. A gentle, resonant xylophone introduction – so austere it could have been plucked right from Radiohead’s Kid A – soon gives way to five minutes of sombre, arpeggiated guitar chords. The track never swells to a predictable climax, but meanders in a way that Mogwai has never quite mastered before.
Synthesisers feature prominently, and almost humorously, on ‘Simon Ferocious’ and ‘Remurdered’. The introductions to both tracks sound like something right out of some horribly pixelated 80’s videogame. Thankfully, Mogwai put their spin on the sound effects, with pitch-bending guitar leads saving ‘Simon’ from industrial monotony. It is almost shocking how well the band incorporate electronic sounds into their sonic vocabulary, and this is just a testament to the confidence they have in their style and musicianship. If anything Rave Tapes illustrates that Mogwai are still the best at what they do— and their capabilities extend far beyond the average bit of wordless post-rock dreariness.
‘Master Card’ is brash and aggressive, driven by rhythmic guitar chords, whereas the sparse ‘Blues Hour’ dabbles in introspection, aided by almost imperceptible vocals. However, Rave Tapes would not truly be a Mogwai album without a couple of rumbling, climactic moments. ‘Blues Hour’ builds to a distorted peak, while the churning synth and guitar pulses of ‘Deesh’ don’t ever wholly erupt, but grow steadily more intense.
Ultimately, Rave Tapes is not a groundbreaking record, but it is inventive within its own boundaries. Surely it isn’t easy to stay relevant after eight albums, especially when a band occupies a musical niche as specific and nuanced as Mogwai’s is. Still, Rave Tapes shows that the band is still progressing—a quality that sets them apart from so many peers in their genre.