The 2006 return of the Glaswegian post-rock instrumentalists has few surprises. Completely consisting of four-or-so-minute tracks, they seem to be going further towards stripping down and lightening up. While it's graced with Mogwai's familiar layered, intelligently produced but rocking instrumental sound, there's a lack of really great tunes, and with so little space in each track there's little opportunity to show off their famous slow-burning crescendos.
"Auto Rock" opens the album strongly, with a tune that could have come from an early 90s dance anthem. But we're soon reminded that we're listening to Mogwai, as the pounding drums, swells and hisses bash the dance tune and the background ambient twiddling into submission. Elsewhere the album has the usual balance of stomping rock-outs, lazy countrified musings and stately piano-led instrumentals. The best of the upbeat rockers is "Glasgow Mega-Snake", titled as if it came from a Mogwai set of fridge poetry. In a similar mood, "We're No Here" forms a seriously crunchy finale.
Out of the downbeat country-flavoured stuff, "Acid Food" is the most distinctive. Almost too lazy-paced, its mumbling lead vocal and pedal steel sit oddly next to a glitchy beat. The first single "Friend of the Night" is the pick of the medium-paced numbers. The walking piano tune and eventual all-encompassing guitar swell are introduced and built up with classic Mogwai timing. (For me it's also distractingly similar to a certain happy-clappy Mike Oldfield instrumental, but thankfully Mogwai don't do new-age.)
The second half of the album tends to drag, with the tracks paling in comparison to the band's earlier work. For example, "Folk Death 95" is no "Ratts of the Capital". But the heard-it-all-before feeling is banished by the interesting "I Chose Horses". Here a Japanese voiceover gives a welcome exoticism to the subtle ambient background. In all it's their least essential album to date, even less so than "Come On Die Young". People only passingly familiar with Mogwai will be unlikely to be convinced by it that they're deserving of more attention.
May 8, 2006
(note: album not currently available from eMusic in the UK)