sit upon high slinging thunder and lightning down at us, with a sound
so engrossing and powerful that it can lead listeners -- those in the
proper mindset -- to that rare decapitation of consciousness through
music that few acts can deliver. Walk around town listening to any of
Mogwai's louder releases on headphones and it's hard not to feel as
detached from the masses as our old pal Meursault from The Stranger.
The band's patented soft-to-hard-to-soft schizophrenia that had been left out in the cold on its past two releases, Rock Action (2001) and to a lesser extent Happy Songs For Happy People, is back in action for the Scottish five-piece's fifth album, Mr. Beast.
But unlike previous releases, when we were taken on several rides
within a solitary track, the thrills and tempo changes have been
stretched out to album length, making this offering essentially a
forty-three-minute song, with each track becoming a spike or dip along
If Mr. Beast
were a Hollywood epic, opener "Auto Rock" would set the stage for the
initial, gory battle scene. A suspense-building piano riff, played by
the always-outspoken Barry Burns (recently chastising James Blunt and
Chris Martin), is pinned to an electronic tide that rises to the
foreground as the song progresses. Drummer Martin Bulloch's syncopated
pounding leads up to the anticipated battle, which plays out with
barbaric, guitar-heavy grandeur on "Glasgow Mega Snake."
might be easy to feel underwhelmed by the quiet, pedal steel flaunting
(yes pedal steel) balladry of "Acid Food," which sees one of those rare
Mogwai moments when someone actually lends vocals to the mix, in this
case guitarist Stuart Braithwaite. From there, a more laid-back sound
persists until the sky cracks back open midway through the eighth
track, "Folk Death 95,"
(Right Click Save As) and the five horsemen of the apocalypse
reemerge. "I Chose Horses" lets us catch our breath again with a
minimal, spacey arrangement designed by guest keyboardist Craig
Armstrong and featuring another guest, singer Tetsuya Fukagawa of Rock
Action Record's Envy, whose whispering of Japanese sweet nothings lulls us into a state of unready for the face-melting finale, "We're No Here."
"He who makes a beast
of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man." That quote, by Dr.
Samuel Johnson, was fit to lead off Hunter S. Thompson's classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,
and taking in this latest release, serves well as a metaphorical
summation of Mogwai's work. And I'm not just saying that because the
album is titled Mr. Beast.
Prefix review: Mogwai [Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003] by Etan RosenbloomPrefix interview: Mogwai [Beautiful noise] by Kevin Dolak