Mogwai has always played a brand of music—brooding,
instrumental post-rock—that their fans might call “challenging.” And
challenging it is—not only for the listener, but for the band as well.
It’s challenging to work in a genre that has become nearly synonymous
with pretension. It’s challenging to maintain interest in sprawling,
nine-minute epics. It’s challenging to acknowledge your influences
without being labeled yet another Slint or Rodan copy.
With all these challenges, it’s no surprise that Mogwai’s
work over the past ten years has been somewhat uneven. When they’re
weak, the music is tedious, derivative, and overwrought. But when
Mogwai are on, their songs stir us in a way that few other
things—musically or otherwise—can. Their strength lies in an ability to
take a simple riff and slowly weave an epic arrangement around it,
until every color of every note has been revealed. A single chord can
This year’s “Mr Beast” shows Mogwai at the strongest they
have ever been. The band has distanced itself from old, self-indulgent
habits—no more overlong tracks or repetitive, angular guitar riffs.
Instead, they’ve focused on production: on distilling the feel of their
earlier albums into something intense and compact.
Mogwai’s manager, Alen McGee, has been quoted as saying that
“Mr Beast” is “possibly better than ‘Loveless,’” the legendary My
Bloody Valentine triumph of sound engineering (and reportedly the most
expensive record ever made).The comparison is not quite called for, but
McGee is right to call attention to the album’s production. This album
sounds great. The tone is full, lush, and urgent, pushing Mogwai’s
music toward an emotional depth that their earlier work had only hinted
The tracks here unfold at a tempered pace; the songs take
their time, but the process is by no means leisurely. Instead, tension
builds as the sound expands, often reaching pitches of dizzying
intensity. “Auto Rock,” the album’s opener, constructs a steady
crescendo around a spare piano melody, adding fuzzy distortion and a
heavy, insistent beat. The result may be melodramatic, but it’s also
nothing less than beautiful.
Vocals, as always, are spare in this album. When Mogwai do
decide to incorporate their voices into a song, the vocals blend right
into the texture of the instrumental fabric, becoming another part of
the ambience. Even as the individual elements of the music may merge
together, however, the structure of the songs themselves is never
indistinct. The rhythm and the drive are always in the forefront,
pushing the song forward, holding us in suspense for the next big crest
Granted, this suspense is not indefinite. Each song contains
a range of sounds and moods, but this range tends to repeat itself from
track to track. This is an album best appreciated in small doses.
Still, “Mr Beast” captures Mogwai at an important moment—they seem to
have shed their extraneous embellishments and gone straight to the
heart of their music. And that moment is surely one worth listening to.