Mogwai - Every Country's Son

by Steve Rhodes Rating:9 Release Date:2017-09-01

In the twenty years after their acclaimed debut Mogwai Young Team, which the band self-admitted was a definitive homage to (at the time) a rather unknown Slint, in the quiet/loud dynamics, bludgeoning riffs and dense atmospherics, Mogwai have continued to evolve over time, shortening songs, adding electronics and Barry Burns' treated vocals and somewhat softening their ethos. After an excellent run, the band stumbled somewhat with The Hawk Is Howling and Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, which though contained some excellent tracks (Scotland's Shame, Rano Pano, How To Be A Werewolf) were more inconsistent affairs that started to hint that the band were treading water. Sandwiched between two inspired soundtrack albums, 2014's Rave Tapes, with its washes of electronica throughout, though was an outstanding return to form, was the last to feature founding guitarist John Cummings.

Every Country's Sun is the first studio album since his departure and it does seem to have an impact, with the guitars seemingly toned down and feel less complicated, however it is still a strong album that moves forward into new soundscapes.

'Coolverine' is an inspired choice as opener. Shimmers of electronic noises bound around the background as deeply-delayed and echoed guitar and a sumptuous bass add swathes of warmth. When the drums enter the guitar takes a descending path that is consistently maintained. Drums depart as 'wobbled' guitar notes and delicate piano lead us through the middle into a loudening close. Foregoing the boom and blast of old this is an intelligent and delightful track that rivals other excellent Mogwai openers, such as Hunted By A Freak (Rock Action) and 'Heard About You Last Night' (Rave Tapes).

The retained 'wobbled' background noises soar around 'Party In The Dark, as a spikier bass lead us into a Mogwai rarity – vocals. Albeit ones that float in and out in a decayed formation in the verse, but are untreated in the chorus, uplifting bliss that feels akin to dreampoppers Rocketship and Deafcult. Perhaps the most conventional track Mogwai have ever done, it adds scope and dimensions to their output.

The electronic drums of 'Brain Sweeties' suggests a darker feel, but this is another uplifting track. Fuck Buttons guitar synths are supported by lightly plucked guitar melodies as piano and drums add density to the track, which feel fuller when a fuzzed bass joins in.

Possessing more of an artificial feel and perhaps the closest connection to their electronic opus of Rave Tapes is 'AKA 47'. Opening with 70s sci-fi sounding keys, before heavier analogue chords propel the track onward. The deadlock is broken by an almost-atonal guitar that GYBE use effectively in their quieter moments, along with background electronic squelches and samples that are supporting bedfellows.

Where Mogwai are at their strongest is where they successfully marry all genres they have touched upon and 'Crossing The Road Material' is their pinnacle. A spacious opening with just a chilling synth and a lightly plucked, almost-acoustic guitar, with a tinge of Like Herod, are joined by a deeply-treated and fuzzed high-end but buried guitar. Haunting keys swoop around as drums and bass appear and repetition takes over, taking positive vibes from Neu, early Stereolab and Mugstar, especially as trebly guitar chords add layers to the track. The song opens into a soaring breakout as the melodies become more intoxicatingly positive as treated keys and major-chord guitar notes take centre stage, before dropping out completely leaving plaintive guitar, sustained high-end keys and background sounds to close the track. A beautiful restrained epic.

With still room to surprise '1000 Foot Face' is a foot-tapping hymnal vocal-led track, with lightly strummed guitar and bass drum for company, that looks to Fleet Foxes and Low in its almost sedate pace. Only the somewhat wayward dissociative keys give a hint that it's Mogwai.

Always one for a bad pun 'Don't Believe The Fife' best reflects their recent soundtrack works. Spacious, with trickles of percussion, a sparing bass and warm analogue keys supported by a haunting melotron providing the subtle distant backing. The songs opens opens out into crashing drums, fuzzed guitars and heavy electronic chords, relegating the keys to the periphery, but which still maintain a significant presence.

Reminding us that ultimately they are an instrumental guitar band, 'Battered At A Scramble' and 'Old Poisons' are classic examples of their past when throbbing, deafening riffs were king. The former takes its time, as squelching distortion and a wandering bass, lead into bludgeoning chords, albeit with a prog slant as a lead guitar and organ wander around in the consciousness, whereas 'Old Poisons' is heavy from the off in a Girls Against Boys meets Black Sabbath via And You Will Know Us The Trail of Dead kind of way. Even when the levels drop the foreboding remains and the song intensely quickens.

Even with all the strengths of the album it is the closer 'Every Country's Sun' that is the star. Haunting bass frequencies and a distant guitar build slowly as weighty electronic chords patiently emerge from the shadows and are met in the middle by crashing drums that lead into a glorious finale. It feels like every nook and cranny of an epic, constantly on the verge of exploding that successfully reigns in its excesses to stunning effect.

Considering Rave Tapes was by far their best album since the days of Come On Die Young and Rock Action, it is testament to Mogwai's character that they've managed to produce an album that almost reaches its heady heights. Simultaneously progressing forward and looking back at different sections of their career Every Country's Sun feels like a best-of that should satisfy all factions of Mogwai fans and will grab the attention of a few more with its powerful but subtle intensity.

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