Mogwai – Rock Action

Having discovered a diary (a livejournal.com download) from 2001 to 2006, I thought I might occasionally post bits and pieces from it. I’m sure I wrote much earlier than 2001 – certainly I can remember reviewing R.E.M.’s Monster in the mid 90s – but this is the earliest review I seem to have kept. I reviewed Mogwai’s Rock Action record for my friend Niall’s Homegrown fanzine. Here it is, in all its glory. Enjoy.

rock-action’It’s gonna sound like a Black Sabbath Tribute album.’

This was my first indication of what the new Mogwai album would sound like, and after speaking to Dominic Aitchison, on a dark Thursday afternoon in December from behind a counter in Glasgow’s HMV, I didn’t know what to expect of Mogwai’s latest offering – given that all members of Mogwai are prone to a little sarcastic misdirection. Previous to this, it had been reported that Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals would guest on the record, so the words of Mogwai’s bassist added to my intrigue.

On hearing the first note of the very first song on the album though, I knew that Dominic was being playful. The album begins with “Sine Wave”. Initially, a speaker-shuddering series of recurring bass notes followed by Stuart Braithwaite’s tremolo-heavy, poignantly slow guitar chimes in. The track builds with more and more synth, piano, and guitar effects being added, and reaches a climax before filtering down to a heavily digitised vocal and delayed guitar before fading out completely.

I’d listened to only one track and I was captivated. I had to have more.

“Take me somewhere nice” fades in from the silence left by “Sine Wave” and begins with an irrepressibly sweet guitar arpeggio and an extended intro before Braithwaite lends us his first vocal of the new album. It also produces my favourite vocal line of the album, ’What would you do / if you saw spaceships / over Glasgow’. Indeed. The third track on the album, “O I Sleep”, lasts only one minute but it is by no means a filler track. It begins slightly reminiscent of the final track on Ten Rapid, then two off-kilter piano parts combine and Stuart sings of fires burning.

“Dial: revenge” is the much talked about collaboration between the ’gwai and Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals. From its very beginning, if you’d put that track on first you couldn’t be blamed for thinking the bloke down at your record shop had possibly given you the wrong CD, such is Rhys’ mark on the song. Given the hype, it was certainly worth the wait. The guitar is a lovely arpeggio around the Am chord and Gruff’s vocals are just mesmerising. “You Don’t Know Jesus” starts with an ethereal guitar riff and builds upon that; stage-by-stage until it is a fantastic array of tuneful noise. As usual, on tracks like this the drums are an incredibly important factor, and Martin Bulloch doesn’t disappoint. At the song’s peak the drums sound outstandingly clear, and have a superbly strong presence. After another classic fade out we are given one minute and eight seconds of noise that is “Robot Chant”.

The strongest song on the album, and possibly one of the best Mogwai songs ever to be committed to tape, is “2 rights make one wrong”. Its recurring guitar pattern, the hook of the track, the drums and bass following shortly after and the brass section adds immensely to the atmosphere (and volume) of the song. As much as Dominic would hate this, “Secret Pint”, is reminiscent of Arab Strap; and as such it feels as fitting as a closer as “Sine Wave” was an opener.

If Rock Action is the direction Mogwai are moving in, the band have a long, successful journey ahead of them. I’m still waiting for that Sabbath Tribute record, though.

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