There are two Mogwai records saved on my phone right now: Rave Tapes and A Wrenched Virile Lore. The former is the Scottish band's second Sub Pop release, out today; the latter is a remix album of 2011's Hardcore Will Never Die but You Will, all the way down to the anagrammed title. These two have a good bit in common, too, with Rave Tapes defined by ambient level-headedness and creeping digital textures rather than blissfully cranked instro-rock. It's almost as if the new record is the successor to the remixes rather than the album that spawned them.
It should be noted that Mogwai can reliably blow the doors off most live venues — it's a given by now. They're unbelievably loud and dynamic, and unafraid to open some serious sonic floodgates. On this album, though, the band seems to have finally stopped trying to prove it, and the resulting LP is one of the most immersive listens since Mr. Beast or even Happy Songs for Happy People.
It s a refreshing move. Mogwai's largely been in the same mode since 2006's Mr. Beast, particularly with the studio records. Both The Hawk is Howling and Hardcore Will Never Die felt like variations on a theme — a damn good theme, yeah, but still increasingly familiar. You could expect, as these albums dropped, to encounter slow burners that eventually hit a post-rock mountaintop and wall-of-distortion steamrollers like the strikingly similar "Glasgow Mega-Snake" (Mr. Beast) and "Batcat" (Hawk is Howling).
Throughout Rave Tapes, though, Mogwai remains in a stately, occasionally relaxed third gear. Even energetic tracks like "Remurdered" are propelled by strong grooves and sinuous, damaged melodies rather than pounding drums and layered distortion. Closer "The Lord is Out of Control" nods to the understated, bucolic apocalypse of 2003's Happy Songs, while the calmly dejected "Blues Hour" hints at 1999's Come on Die Young. Like that record, Rave Tapes is an exercise in restraint.
About halfway through this record, on "Repelish," a paranoid voice outlines the tired evangelical conspiracy theory that "Stairway to Heaven" contains a subliminal Satanic message. A repeating set of melodies seems almost sympathetic, as if this sort of mental or spiritual damage comes hand-in-
hand with rock and roll. Interestingly, this and other essential moments of Rave Tapes are only possible because Mogwai gave their ideas room to breathe. For once, they aren't rocking out — and it works beautifully.
Mogwai will perform at Amos' Southend on May 6.
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