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Ten Rapid, 6.5/10 (comp)
Young Team, 7/10
Come On Die Young, 6/10
Macrocosmica: Ad Astra , 6/10
Fiend: Caledonian Gothic , 6/10
Fiend: Caledonian Cosmic , 6/10
Fiend: Caledonian Mystic , 5/10
The Rock Action , 6/10
Happy Songs For Happy People (2003), 6.5/10
Mr Beast (2006), 6/10
The Hawk Is Howling (2008), 6/10
Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will (2011), 5/10
Rave Tapes (2014) , 5/10
Every Country's Sun (2017), 5/10
As the Love Continues (2021), 6/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Scotland's Mogwai anchored the blissful, impressionistic ambience of Young Team (1997) to atmospheric guitar sounds, ranging from celestial drones to hellish walls of distortions. Removing the impetus of that work, Come On Die Young (1999) revisited the desolate soundscapes of "slo-core", music that wandered, drifted, diluted itself into myriad variations of its own theme. The slowly-unfolding ballads of The Rock Action (2001) and the carefully orchestrated, organic, rational sonatas of Happy Songs For Happy People (2003) were practical applications of that theory.

Mogwai, formed in Glasgow around 1995, played (mostly) instrumental music. Guitarists Stuart Braithwaite and John Cummings (also on piano), drummer Martin Bulloch and bassist Dominic Aitchisin anchored their sound on atmospheric guitar sounds, ranging from celestial drones to hellish walls of distortions.

The early singles, the immature Tuner (Rock Action, 1996), a whispered lullay smothered in languid instrumental tones, Summer (Love Train, 1996) and New Paths To Helicon (Wurlitzer Jukebox, 1997), later collected on Ten Rapid (Jetset, 1997), revealed a band intent upon revisiting the "slo-core" and the desolate soundscapes of Slint, Codeine and Low, albeit with the intellectual and modernistic praxis of a Brian Eno. Their blissful, impressionistic ambience, seasoned with weird Pixies-ian guitar intros, is particularly effective in Summer (that alternates between tinkling xylophone melody and guitar fury), Angels vs Aliens (a maelstrom of guitar and keyboard noises), and Helicon 1 (a majestic melody played a` la Jimi Hendrix on distorted guitar notes).

The three-song EP 4 Satin (Chemikal Underground, 1997 - Jetset, 1998) announced a mature band of mature ambitions.

With drummer Brendon O'Hare (of Teenage Funclub and Telstar Ponies fame) replacing Bulloch, and the addition of new member Barry Burns (flute, keyboards), Mogwai recorded their proper debut album, Young Team (Chemikal Underground, 1997), an even more experimental work that is heavily influenced by the "shoegazer" legacy and by the space-rock suites of Bardo Pond, as announced by the second half of opener Yes I Am A Long Way From Home, a psychedelic raga in diguise.
The album's highlights are the two lenghty tracks. The twelve-minute Like Herod, dedicated to their idols Slint, begins with insecure plucking and strumming that suddenly erupts in a spasmodic sequence of monster riffs. The idea is repeated one more time before the music is left to die slowly. The 16-minute Fear Satan takes off right away with roaring distorted guitars that lead a wild post-psychedelic freak-out. After ten minutes the clamor decays into a swampy flute-driven lattice of mystery and suspence, Unlike their progressive-rock forefathers, Mogwai prefers sudden reversals of mood rather than gradual metamorphoses.
The layered orchestration of Katrien is designed to achieve maximum psychological impact. With Portfolio pushes the envelope of the quiet/violent dichotomy by devastating a simple limping piano figure with a harsh wall of noise (that would remain one of the band's rare ventures into dissonance).
The melancholy detachment of R U Still In 2 It is obtained by blending together three strands of alienation: the tender folkish guitar notes, the funereal piano figures the guest vocalist's eerie spoken words. If the violence of their sudden outbursts points to neurosis, and the mood of the linear pieces hints at to manic depression, the glacial hypnosis of Tracy raises hopes of a forthcoming catharsis.

Brendon O'Hare is also the leader of Macrocosmica, a quartet whose seven-song debut album, Ad Astra (God Bless, 1997), draws inspiration from Fugazi's twisted hardcore, from Big Black's atonal neurosis, and from Girls Vs Boys' elegant claustrophobia for the abrasive riffs and angular rhythms of Rusty's Arms and A Horse Can Walk. The angry shout and granitic riff of Lamotta sound amateurish but already impressive, and the terrifying hailstorm of beats and distortions Orbit 48 delivers what the other songs promised. On the other hand, the six-minute psychedelic languor of I Am The Spaceship Digitalis mimicks June Of 44's Of Information And Belief. A derivative effort, but nonetheless rewarding.

The four-song EP Space Geek (God Bless, 1998) presents a more relaxed and accessible take on that virulent strain of post-punk.

The ubiquitous Brendon O'Hare also runs Fiend, a band created specifically to publish a trilogy of concept albums: Caledonian Gothic (God Bless, 1997), a claustrophobic and letargic ambient work inspired by Amon Duul, Caledonian Cosmic (God Bless, 1998), a work inspired by the cosmic riders of the 1970s (Paranoic Timeslip, The Birthplace Of Star), and Caledonian Mystic (God Bless, 1998), a more accessible collection of instrumentals (the 16-minute Forgotten Sea) and songs. O'Hare weaves less structured pieces that occasionally recall the heydays of psychedelic music.

With O'Hare working only part-time (he has a parallel project called Macrocosmica), there followed two remix albums, Kicking A Dead Pig (Eye-Q,1998) and Fear Satan Remixes (Eye-Q, 1998), and the EP No Education=No Future (Chemikal Underground, 1998)

Mogwai's proper second album, Come On Die Young (Matador, 1999), also known as CODY, is a partial disappointment, as the impetus of the early music is mostly mute. Mogwai coins a format that works both as experimental compositions and as light entertainment.
However, their compositions rarely coalesce into a tight, focused song. Mogwai's music likes to wander, to drift, to dilute itself into myriad variations of its own theme. It is an art of small gestures, like the melodic guitar phrase woven around the psychedelic crescendo of Year 2000 Non-compliant Cardia,
It is also an art of what does not happen. Kappa is the musical equivalent of sexual impotence: the instruments prepare the climax for the melody to erupt, but instead the music restrains itself and the melody barely dusts itself off. All the noisy introduction, the piano lullaby, the martial drumming of the 9-minute Chocky do not lead anywhere.
The magical balance of Helps Both Ways may represent the band's method better than anything else: the limping blues and the Salvation-Army fanfare that propel it are so undermined by the execution that one hardly waits for anything to happen anymore. Music is just this unfinished business, this eternally floating atmosphere in which you mostly wait for something that you know will never happen.
A drawback is that, when the band doesn't find that magic balance, they tend to indulge in lengthy guitar-based minimalistic techniques bottowed from Sonic Youth: May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door (on a solemn waltz), the 9-minute Ex-Cowboy (in sideral crescendo), the 10-minute Christmas Steps (from quiet to explosive). It is here that Mogwai betrays inexperience and clumsiness.
The only ballad, Cody, would be a stand-out on any country album. If they can make more of these, Mogwai may find their true voice in conventional songs rather than in extended instrumentals.

Cody, the ballad from Come On Die Young, was the manifesto of a new phase in Mogwai's career. Three tracks of Mogwai's album The Rock Action (Matador, 2001) are slowly unfolding "ballads" (sung ballads); and they lead nowhere, although they do so in a very charming way. Take Me Somewhere Nice has soothing strings and a gentle piano to match the delicate melody whispered by the vocalist for a few seconds. The refrain of the guitar-driven Dial Revenge soars like a religious hymn. The brief closer, Secret Pint, contrasts catatonic chanting with petulant keyboards.
The eight-minute instrumental You Don't Know Jesus (stormy layers of hypnotic instrumental pulsations pierced by space guitar) and the nine-minute 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong (anthemic guitar and piano, delirious cymbals, dense strings, and four minutes of slow liquefaction and multi-voice wordless humming) showcase Mogwai's best elements (the emotional crescendos the delicate fabric of counterpoint) but also their limitations: pointless repetition that fails to reach a conclusion. The narrative as a strategy of continuously losing the thread.
There is, of course, an obvious objection to Mogwai's program: if they continue along this path, they'll spend ten years learning how to write the ballads that Bacharach was writing twenty years before they were even born. Mogwai are an obvious candidate to most overrated band of post-rock.

The EP My Father My King (Matador, 2001) is a 20-minute instrumental piece that sounds like a variation on Pink Floyd's psychedelic raga Careful With That Axe for burning guitar distortions at a brisk pace. After eight minutes the undulating trancey raga-like quality of the piece decays into a somnolent jazzy and gypsy calm, which in turn slowly coalesces into a vortex of loud quasi-doom riffs and distorted cosmic guitar solos.

Aidan Moffat (Arab Strap) and Stuart Braithwaite launched a side-project with the EP Sick Anchors (Lost Dog, 2002).

Happy Songs For Happy People (Matador, 2003), a carefully orchestrated, organic, rational/mathematic work, abandons the pretentious and the trivial aspects of the former album's experiment with dub-balladry and returns to their most natural environment, the all-instrumental piece and the undulating dynamics. There is a lot more emphasis on the melody, and the rhythmic excursion tends to follow a predictable course. In a sense, this is Mogwai's "mainstream" album. (The spelling and grammatical mistakes of the titles are Mogwai's). A soaring mellotron-like melody emerging from the hypnotic texture of a guitar shuffle in Hunted By A Freak, the dark and low requiem-like dirge of a church organ drowned in the ghostly theme of the strings in Moses I Amn't, the tender lullaby electrocuted by wavering drones in Kids Will Be Skeletons, the giant maelstrom that devours the hummed litany of Killing All The Flies, are all signs of Mogwai's reach maturity. They recycle the same cliches of the previous albums, namely the slow build-up of rhythm and melody (which is, by now, a rather trivial expedient), but here they speculate on the beauty of the melody, rather than on the sensational, clashing peak of sounds.
Ratts of the Capital, the only lengthy piece (eight minutes), boasts the most dense and majestic crescendo, supported by a truculent groove worthy of stoner-rock.
The group fails to capitalize on some of the best ideas, such as Golden Porsche's ambient piano melody in slow motion and wrapped in gentle tides of chamber strings, or the insistent piano strumming set to industrial beats of I Know You Are But What Am I?.
There is no innovation, and there is no boldness. But this is Mogwai's most polished and intelligible presentation of their aesthetics.

Government Commissions (Matador, 2005). compiles tracks from five sessions recorded for BBC shows between 1996 and 2003.

Mr Beast (Matador, 2006) marked the first major change in format, as Mogwai opted for concise instead of sprawling compositions, and for sleek instead of tumultuous sound, as if they wanted to coin a radio-friendly version of post-rock. The self-referential Auto Rock and the mildly amusing Friends Of The Night represented the middle ground between the brutal drama of Folk Death 95, Travel Is Dangerous, Glasgow Mega-Snake, and the stately calm of Acid Food, I Choose Horses, We're No Here. However calculated, the brevity and the vocals detracted from the emotional power of the music.

The Hawk Is Howling (2008), their first all-instrumental album, stood out as one of their most aggressive and intense works (Batcat). However, it also features The Sun Smells Too Loud that, in a parallel universe, is basically a lounge ballad.

The four-song EP Earth Division (Sup Pop, 2011) was a teaser, offering four relatively straightforward songs (even the folkish elegy Hound Of Winter); possibly their most lightweight offering.

Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will (Sub Pop, 2011) is torn between bursts of romantic pathos and austere rhythmic experiments. When the center of mass falls towards the former, Mogwai unleashes the symphonic crescendo of White Noise, and the Pink Floydf-ian apotheosis of Death Rays; pieces that represent a career's peak of bombast. Instead, the moribund threnody of Mexican Grand Prix evokes both Neu and Suicide. However, other than the nocturnal piano and guitar meditation of Letters To The Metro, most of the instrumentals recycle old tricks, such as interrupted minimalist repetition, orgies of crashing cymbals, and stereotypical surges/decays of sound. Ome such dejavu, You're Lionel Richie, would have sufficed. And the album includes some truly awful pieces, particularly the ones that lean towards shoegaze-ing guitar noise.

Special Moves (Rock Action, 2010) documents their live performances.

A Wrenched Virile Lore (Sub Pop, 2012) collects remixes.

Rave Tapes (2014) offered a more melodic and relaxed version of their sound, notably in Pink Floyd-ian elegies like Heard About You Last Night and Blue Hour but without Roger Waters' skill at creating pathos. The hymn-like The Lord Is Out Of Control is wrapped in electronic effects, and Remurdered evokes spaghetti western soundtrack. All in all, it's a strange and eclectic album, certainly influenced by their soundtrack work, but also one of their most erratic and inconsistent.

Produced by Dave Fridmann Every Country's Sun (2017), was the first album without Cummings. The compositions, generally more melodic, fall into three categories: cinematic moments such as the nostalgic impressionistic vignette Coolverine, surges of Pink Floyd-ian pomp such as Brain Sweeties, and lame attempts at forging a pop song, mainly Party In The Dark. Then there's the acid-raga jam Battered At A Scramble that doesn't quite fit any of these. It's another modest collection of harmless music.

Central Belters (2015) is a three-disc compilation.

They increasingly turned to television and film soundtracks: Les Revenants (2013), the electronic Atomic (2016), Kin (2018) and ZeroZeroZero (2020).

As the Love Continues (2021), produced by Dave Fridmann, was Mogwai's first album to top the charts in Britain. The radio-friendly songs were the electronic dream-pop single Dry Fantasy and the poppy Ritchie Sacramento (one of the two vocal tracks), followed by the relatively upbeat Supposedly We Were Nightmares and the wordless emo-pop elegies Ceiling Granny and We Were Nightmares. The more typical subtlety in orchestrations and dynamics permeates the distorted dirge Ceiling Granny, the cinematic Midnight Flit (possibly the standout), the moody overture To The Bin My Friend, the jazzy Pat Stains/i> (with saxophonist Colin Stetson). If Every Country's Sun was predictable like a mass-produced souvenir, As The Love Continues is the opposite: quite unpredictable in its bid for the mainstream. For example, during the covid pandemic Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails in Los Angeles conducted an orchestra in Budapest via Internet.

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