Thursday, 7 August 2014

Album Review:Mogwai – Come On Die Young (Reissue)

(Chemikal Underground)

Mogwai's second album begins with a clip of Iggy Pop talking about the burgeoning punk rock genre “it's a term that's based on contempt, it's a term that's based on fashion, style, elitism, Satanism and everything that's rotten about rock 'n' roll”. It is easy to see the sample intended as a parallel to the post-rock tag that had been stuck on to their debut Young Team, a term they have dismissed both in interviews and musically with their follow up record Come On Die Young.

Fifteen years on and Mogwai are now amongst the most established bands to have emerged in instrumental rock and a formidable live act but over the course of their career the Scottish band have never taken the easy path and for better or worse all of their albums have distinctly different.
1997's Young Team, which took on shoegaze, metal and the sounds of forward thinking acts like Slint, Bark Psychosis and Talk Talk, won the band critical acclaim. Huge sweeping creations like the seventeen minute long Mogwai Fear Satan or the violent and harsh riffs of Like Herod. Since then they have stripped their songs down to no frills essentials on Rock Action and taken their most ambient shift scoring the soundtrack to the French television show The Returned.

Instead of an easy follow up where they continue to construct the builds, crescendos and big shifts in dynamics that would define post-rock the band have never taken the easy route. On 1999's Come On Die Young they sidestepped their noisey debut's ferocious immediacy and put together a selection of restrained and subtle tracks that unravel over multiple listens. The album is now getting the reissue treatment, and seen in a much fairer light of their whole discography can be regarded as one of their finest successes.

Guitarist Stuart Braithwaite provides vocals on Cody, starting the album unpredictably, having as more in common with slowcore acts like Codeine and Low as it does with anything anything on Young Team. The track mixes whisper soft, tender vocals with the equally unexpected pining sound of a slide guitar. In fact a distortion pedal isn't triggered until the fifth track, Kappa, and even then it's overshadowed by harshly struck, clean guitars. The whole album has an order but with it's laboured limits there is variation. The shorter moments like chiming echo of piano keys Oh, How The Dogs Stack Up or Spaghetti western outro of Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/AntiChrist help hold the album together.

That's not to say the band don't let loose at times, Ex-Cowboy is as heavy as Mogwai have ever been. As riffs give way to harsh machine-like noise and drum rolls they prove they are still capable of creating the kind of thrilling noise-laden cacophony that few other other bands can manage and here, amongst the serene sounds of tracks like Cody these moments are all the more striking. It followed by two more aggressive tracks. A sparse and melancholy piano melody carries Chocky, as drums cascade around it, threatening to turn the track into something louder and more dangerous but just about manages to restrain itself whilst Christmas Steps delivers melodic hardcore punk riffing, taking the band back to the loud quiet dynamics of Young Team.

Amongst the extensive additional material accompanying Come On Die Young is the Travels In Constants EP, originally released in 2001, which seems to fit in well with the album despite having a slightly different feel, the first track Untitled sounds like Neu!'s more electronic moments given a moody update and shows the electronic touches that would become more apparent on later Mogwai albums. Another bonus track, Hugh Dallas hold up alongside the album tracks, featuring Braitwaite's vocals placed amongst echoing guitars, beginning at a mournful dirge before before swelling up to offer up a visceral and emotive climax that still manages to surprise like the first strike of thunder from a slow-moving storm.

If there are any weak links, it's the demo tracks, which are too similar to the finished versions to really reveal an insight into the bands process, just a little rougher around the edges. Still there are early versions of Rollerball and 7-25 which would later form part of Mogwai's soundtrack for the film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.

There have been a lot of bands that have played around with the same template that bands like Mogwai established in the nineties so it really does show how well Come On Die Young hold up fifteen years on that it still has an feel all of it's own. Eschewing some of what made Young Team such a success was a gamble, as the band reassessing the builds and distortion of Young Team and creating a different and more restrained approach. There is still an atmosphere that in a certain light creates a tense, uneasy drama and in another beauty.

Die-hard Mogwai fans may already own most of what is here as most of the extras have previously been released in some form but it is clear that some effort has gone into this reissue, gathering just about everything there is from this period in the band's history, clocking in at two and a half hours. The album itself is still the best part of the package but everything here stands up and adds a little more context around one of Mogwai's defining musical achievements where they realised that they quieter statements can be the most powerful.

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