Mogwai have always seemed to have a much better sense of humor than most of their peers. While most of the bands that sound like them (e.g. Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Sigur Rós) opt for either brooding, austere soundscapes or breathtakingly ethereal musical collages, the Scottish five-piece have a knack for poking fun at everything from the silliness of the genre they’re often lumped into (Really? Post-rock is the best you can come up with?) to the stagnancy of much of today’s music by toying around with dynamics and silence to shake things up aurally.
And so, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the band’s seventh studio LP, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, is simultaneously divergent from everything the band has ever done and very much the same Mogwai who shook up the art-rock world over a decade and a half ago. Their last two albums have been as different as one could imagine: 2006’s Mr. Beast was easily Mogwai’s most accessible record and their first to prominently feature vocals (most of their work sports singing and spoken word parts almost purely ornamental bits), while its 2008 follow-up, The Hawk is Howling, is a 10-song burst of stunning power and scope, lacking vocals of any kind, relying instead on the instrumental crescendos and mastery of dynamics that Mogwai exhibited on their hallowed 1997 debut, Young Team. Keep in mind, The Hawk is Howling, also saw the five-piece invite back half of Young Team‘s legendary production team: Andy Miller. Hardcore… sees Mogwai bring back the other half, Paul Savage.
Mogwai have hardly ever been as accessible as they are on Hardcore…. Only three of the 10 songs break the six-minute mark and when they do, you’ll hardly notice. The vocoded lyrics and steady click-beat of album highlight “Mexican Grand Prix”, for instance, are so enrapturing that the song glides on and on with ease. Track six, “Letters to the Metro”, sees Mogwai take a page from Godspeed’s well-worn book, painting about as movingly evocative a picture as could possibly be put together in just under five minutes. The dirge-like funeral march of “Too Raging to Cheers” again instantly calls to mind Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s signature movie score-like musical quality, but with more than enough of Mogwai’s guitar-oriented sound to avoid sounding too imitative.
There’s more than enough vintage Mogwai to go around, however. The piano and guitars on album closer “You’re Lionel Ritchie” (You see? The aforementioned British humor is well-intact) build and swirl around perilously for the better part of the track before, following a signature Mogwai 10-second rest, the full bandroaring guitars, drums and allcome crashing in precisely at four minutes in. The quintet keep things in high gear for another four and a half minutes before the wash of sound finally dies down.
As far as faults go, though, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is pretty spotless. The band proves they’re as skilled as ever when it comes to entertaining with just their instruments. If you can manage to listen past the lack of conventional song structures and vocals, Hardcore… will likely be a very pleasant listen. It’s a striking snapshot of a band on top of their ever-evolving game, with a fair amount of surprises thrown in for good measure.