Making the transition from writing albums to composing soundtracks isn't always a smooth one but it'd be hard to disagree that Mogwai's distinctive instrumental rock would make them better suited than most. Their brand of music could be considered cinematic in scope, with tracks sometimes long enough to play out like a story arc. Since releasing their seventh album, 2011's Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, the Scottish group have worked on the soundtrack to the French drama series The Returned. The result was a stripped back affair for Mogwai, avoiding the distorted peaks that many of their songs arrive at. Instead they created an ambient but melodic score that create a sense of unease to fit the supernatural mystery playing out on screen and the restrictions that come with putting together a soundtrack seem to have had a positive influence on the group's latest full-length album Rave Tapes.
There are many signs on this album of a band gently tweaking and tampering with their already proven formula rather than starting anew. Album opener Heard About You Last Night begins like a older Boards of Canada track, minimal keyboard notes ring into each other before being joined by drums and guitars which, as the song develops, rise up like a string section creating the kind of grand sweeping melody, filled with a barley contained sense of power.
Soft vocals take the forefront on Blues Hour accompanied by sparse piano notes and creates a mood more in key with the bands darker, austere musical beginnings. The lyrics create a sense of tragedy out of the mundane with lines like 'Train lines going nowhere/No destination found'. It isn't all bleak though, Repelish weaves a sample of a man’s overly serious analysis of subliminal messages in Stairway to Heaven. It may be an excuse to get the words 'You gotta live for Satan. Master Satan' into a song but it injects a little humour to a genre often marked by its dour seriousness. On Remurdered the group relies on analogue synthesizers to build tension around a 4/4 kick before a restless lead line plays out over a powerful stomping drum beat building up like an update of an old Giallo film soundtrack.
Electronics have long been a part of the bands musical arsenal and on Rave Tapes they often form a crucial backbone to the tracks whether it's the thick buzzing keys of Simon Ferocious or the dystopian John Carpenter-esque synthesizer pulse of Deesh. The album closer Our Lord Is Out Of Control might be the most un-Mogwai track here. It revolves around a strangely haunting auto-tuned voice in which the indiscernible lyrics form a melody for the drum machine beats and guitars drones to support. The effect is mesmerising as it plays out like a serene astral hymn.
There are occasional moments like on Hexon Bogon or Master Card where it doesn't feel like they bring anything new to the mix but they're still neatly crafted tracks here. Nothing is as dynamically wild as Young Team, everything here carefully eases its way into your mind. It isn't their loudest or boldest record, in fact much of it feels like an experiment in restraint. Many of the songs hang around the four to five minute mark so whilst there is nothing comparable in length to Mogwai Fear Satan not a second feels wasted over the album's ten tracks. Rave Tapes shows a band that have honed their craft into a finely tuned art and as such this album sounds like it was effortless to make and easy to appreciate.
Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk