How does a band like Mogwai go about recording an album? Known as one of the leading pioneers of that post rock arena, even if they don’t like the label, they can’t deny their incredible talent that has seen some of the greatest albums ever recorded done so in their name. Despite coming from Glasgow, surely a bad start in life for anyone, they have consistently released albums of such high quality that even their most dedicated fans still can’t quite agree on what is their magnum opus. So, with all this pressure upon the four men of Mogwai, how do they go about working on album number seven without sounding stale, without repeating past ideas, without alienating new and old fans alike? If there’s any one band that has had enough practice answering those questions, it’s the ‘Gwai.
Things start off well enough with ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead ‘weaving spellbindingly around a sorrowful piano melody that recalls moments from ‘Happy Songs for Happy People’. The drums plod steadily along in the background, with cymbals that crash like waves against a harsh brick wall and in true Mogwai fashion the song ebbs and flows growing into a glorious crescendo that acts as a epic introduction, leaving you gagging for more. Indeed, things don’t let up with the sludgey riffery of ‘Batcat‘, the heaviest song on the album and one that is set to dominate live sets. Although the track has a repetitive nature, extended listenings bring out many little layers of sound backing up the guitars that continuously pique the interest of keen ears.
However, from this surprisingly bold and brash start of the album, perhaps the very embodiment of the hawk’s howl things just completely dissipate to a rather bland collection of tracks that struggle to stand out amongst eachother. In fact, there are moments on this album where the music bores rather that awes, with the directionless meanderings of ‘Daphne and the Brain‘ and ‘Local Authority‘ all seemingly blending into one. Despite ‘The Sun Smells Too Loud‘ changing tactics with an uplifting guitar riff full of positive notes, the song drags on for far too long, and said riff only ends up driving you insane as you beg for the band to expand upon it or take it somewhere else.
‘King Meadow‘ is another example of the band seemingly losing the songs to their prettiness. There’s no doubt that the band can produce some lovely sounding music, but all the examples on The Hawk is Howling end up drifting into one another, an aimless mess that lacks the brooding, paced atmospheres from their highly regarded back catalogue. Closer ‘The Precipice‘ offers some respite, strumming along with a composed authority that swells up to bring the album to a positive, cathartic conclusion.
It’s always a frustration when a great band seemingly hits a wall and cannot find a way to reinvigorate themselves and their music. For years Mogwai have been fighting against a rising tide of criticisms of mundanity and lack of innovation, but they have always managed to answer their critics in the best way possible – consistently releasing captivating albums and partaking in interesting projects (the Zidane soundtrack came as quite a surprise to many). But this time round it looks like Mogwai have little to throw back at the critics, hoping that this time round people will take it for granted that what they are listening to is not boring or uninspired, but good old Mogwai. Unfortunately I think it might be a battle they may lose.