Every now and again I discover a band I like and end up getting all of their albums in quick succession. This year it's the turn of Mogwai, all five of whose LPs I've been rotating for the past couple of months. It's unhealthy to gorge on one genre, never mind one band, to the exclusion of others, But it's tempting, since most of Mogwai's albums end up getting judged in comparison to the others. Since their new one was coming out in March 2006, I would prefer to have a more informed opinion on it. Though I would still be nothing like the kind of fan that that Mogwai seem to attract, who have followed them since their early EPs, attend every tour and devotedly collect their live bootlegs.
"Young Team" is their first full length album. Seemingly it's their most revered, and deservedly so I would say. First track "Yes! I Am a Long Way from Home" is a to-the-point introduction to the classic Mogwai sound - elegant musings on a web of bass-heavy guitars, growing patiently to a peak filled out with massive distorted chords and fat drum fills. The genre of instrumental post-rock always seems to attract geological comparisons. Sigur Ros are always "glacial", and Godspeed You Black Emperor evoke "tectonic plates". Mogwai's music seem to be more organic than mineral, full of vitality.
A large proportion of the minutes here are devoted to two tracks, which are enough to establish this album as a classic. Mogwai's basic loud-soft dynamics are taken to an extreme on "Like Herod", a seriously heavy piece of instrumental rock, and suitably not pretty. Its ear-splitting distorted climaxes burst forth from quiet backgrounds of simmering basslines. The fantastic power of this track is enhanced by gnawing repetition, especially near the end when it stubbornly carries on spitting out its bassy thrashes into the void.
But even more entrancing is the quarter-hour of "Mogwai Fear Satan", which still seems to be unmatched in Mogwai's canon. Built on a backbone of a riff of three notes, constantly repeated, mingling classical minimalism and rock in a throughly distinctive way. No punches are pulled in smothering this basic backbone with searing sheets of distorted guitars, muscular basslines, and most importantly a vital driving drum beat. The icing on the cake is the melancholy tones of a flute weaving in and out. You won't want it to end, providing minimalism doesn't bother you.
What makes "Young Team" even more listenable is the way it balances these heavy monoliths by more refined shorter tracks with elegant melodies. Shining out are the glinting electric piano that soars above and duplicates the bassline of the melancholic "Tracy", and the poignant "R U Still In 2 It?", which accompanies an almost-singing vocalist moping for an absent friend to "get right tanked up" with. They're carried by an impeccable sense of sustain and dynamics, without which these pieces would just be a downer.
A couple of shorter tracks, "Katrien" and "Summer", distil those dynamics into a more compact form, each with strong tunes. A set of even shorter ambient instrumental vignettes are not notable in themselves, such as the piano solo of "Radar Maker" and the unsubtle rapid stereo panning of "With Portfolio", but these work very well to space out the larger showpieces. Throughout the album the use of soundbites and voice samples adds a human touch, in a much more down-to-earth way than Godspeed's post-apocalyptic pronouncements.
For Mogwai, start here.
March 17, 2006