Like a good, smooth whisky, The Hawk Is Howling
is a product of good distillation: Six albums in and this one is a fine specimen of Mogwai's signature sound. It's not as reliant on the loud-soft/tension-explosion of their early work, instead leaning on elements of noise, sculpture and just terrifying beauty to create a transcendent experience. The songs are classic Mogwai, only more sophisticated -- and, as such, startling different.
If you took all of the cheery, jaunty and upbeat moments in Mogwai’s past (at best, this is a handful of moments total) and left them in a bar with an open tab, you’d get “The Sun Smells Too Loud." On the other hand, the dark and ponderous “Scotland’s Shame” shows the band to be more contemplative and murky than ever; it's nearly eight minutes of meditation and somehow still catchy. “Batcat” is a shot of quasi speed metal, the bastard stepchild of “Glasgow Mega Snake.”
Mogwai's music has always transcended words but begged for a new lexicon. It's guitars, pianos and textures that have no name but provoke sensual understanding. It's furniture for a headspace. It's a salve, or a thick single malt, two fingers, no ice.
Mogwai putting the word "howling" in an album title is an apt move. The Scottish post-rock outfit has always been known to sonically shred and wail at extreme volumes that only seem bigger when balanced against Mogwai's softer, lighter moments. Those wide dynamic swings come into play again on The Hawk is Howling, as well as all of the other Mogwai hallmarks, like songs that stretch out to cinematic scope (most clock in at over the five-minute mark), metal moments, and glitchy noise. There are no vocals here, though; the album is a completely instrumental affair. Remember to never take a Mogwai song title at face value. "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead" probably has nothing to do with the ghost of the Doors frontman, "The Sun Smells Too Loud" sounds positively Ringo-esque (in title, that is - the actual song sounds like Kraftwerk playing straight-ahead classic rock), and "I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School" is just trying to shock and titillate.