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.