Mogwai - Young Team - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Mogwai - Young Team

by Steve Rhodes Rating:9 Release Date:1997-10-27
Mogwai - Young Team
Mogwai - Young Team

It's probably safe to say that without Slint, Mogwai may not have existed but likewise, without the emergence of Mogwai, Slint themselves may have been left in the realms of the largely undiscovered. In a similar way to bands like Doves, Elbow and Radiohead citing latter-period Talk Talk as a big influence exciting interest in the latter's later albums, Mogwai's patronage of Slint's Spiderland as a seminal work in their Young Team album, especially the quiet/loud dynamics and repetitive and driving riffs, certainly awoken journalists and the record-buying public who largely ignored it on release.

Mogwai's debut album, though while wears its influences, is not a simple retread. For every bludgeoning guitar riff, there are plenty of introspective and intricate moments and quiet contemplation, leading to an impressive debut for a very young band who have built upon their fledging buildings and evolved into a guitar and electronics powerhouse, and a huge influence themselves in their own right on a number of artists.

Like a lot of their earlier tracks 'Yes I Am A Long Way From Home' has a sampled, spoken-word opening, with a distant organ cementing itself the background as Dominic Aitchison's twanging bass takes centre stage. Along with subtle guitar notes and lightly-tapped drums, the ensemble feels like Bedhead, Rothko or Dianogah in their bass-heaviness, before the guitars eventually louden and fuzz up, but still retain a melodicism in the Mercury Rev mould rather than a Black Sabbath all out attack.

'Like Herod' though is where the album truly kicks off. If you've ever seen Mogwai live, this is the one track that will frighten the life and kick the shit out of you the same time. A deeply brooding atmosphere throughout (very Slint-like), especially Dominic's atonal bass, Martin Bulloch's timely and more present drumming and underplayed, but waspish and aggressive guitars, but it's that drop out of sound before the sudden change of blistering noise that truly made Mogwai their name. As bleak as they come, Stuart Braithwaite and John Cummings' guitars almost wail in pain, nodding to Rodan in tension and menace, as they churn and screech out of the speakers. A monumental jolt of music.

'Katrin' provides a sort of respite. Upping the pace and following the pattern of the opener, with a distilled organ throughout, a buried spoken-word amble is slowly besieged by distorted but melodic guitars that envelop the room like Prolapse immersed in the DNA of The Twilight Sad.

'Tracy' continues the flow of sampled background noises, as a treated guitar soars patiently and quietly in the background, which is more like the signature sound that Mogwai would develop over the course of their career, as pattered drums eventually louden as the song develops. The keys are subtle and almost child-like, as the instrumentation fades leaving sampled voices and a barely audible eerie organ and percussion.

Perhaps due to exuberance or even over-confidence, their run of limited edition singles are all absent from the album, with the exception of 'Summer', but rather than retaining the old, this has been re-recorded as a 'priority version'. It still retains the perfect representation of the quiet/loud dynamics, but it feels more polished and cluttered, losing a bit of the mystique and space of the original of an excellent track which is best heard in its full sonic roar in its rare live outings.

The album is not all about sonic boom and bluster, there's a brief anomaly in 'Radar Maker' with an accompanied, minor-key, echoed piano left to its own devices. A nice break in proceedings even if it retains an element of brooding majesty, feeling akin to Codeine in depth and texture. 'A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters' also has piano at the lead, with just a tinkering of sketchy drumming for company, but of all the 'interludes' it's 'With Portfolio' that stands out above the rest. Brendan O'Hare's sole credit, it's a short but intriguing experimental number. The piano almost chimes and it walks along dreamily, but it's the droning, background noises, that border on the industrial, that makes the track, becoming more aggressive and alarm-like as the piano departs. An interesting direction that the band failed to progress on, as Brendan was allegedly infamously sacked for apparently chatting through an Arab Strap gig, before album #2 was started on.

Though vocals were primarily shunned there was often a token amount of vocal tracks scattered throughout the career, with 'R U Still In 2 It' the main track here. Guested by Arab Strap's Aidan Moffatt, it's another understated track, with just repetitive and slightly-echoed guitar chords, bass, spacious piano notes and a simple drum pattern, accompanying Aidan's spoken-word musings about meeting up and getting drunk, but also features a rare appearance in the chorus of vocals from the band themselves. Uncomplicated and almost hymn-like in its tone and reverence.

The final track though is what put Mogwai on the map, the mother of all songs and what an album closer. 'Mogwai Fears Satan' is patient, building, borderline-sinister, with guitars that ascend wonderfully in an instantly hypnotic pattern, as drum and bass are added and the sound builds as the instrumentation gets louder, before dropping out into a haunting coda. This is just the eye of the storm and a temporary calm, before 11 is truly hit on the amps and the guitars suddenly bleed and ache with a cacophony of beautiful noise, with the song retaining the same ascending chords and pattern throughout. A sumptuous, haunting flute appears during the second tranquil 'downtime' of the track and a pinnacle highlight of one of the greatest closing tracks of any album.

Young Team is a terrific record that neatly summed up the confidence and tenacity of such a young band, that awoken the ears to what seemed like an original form of music. Though in debt to some of their peers it is a watershed moment that would be much cited, imitated and copied over the years, but never a patch on the original. Mogwai themselves would go on to develop and expand their sound to greater effect over subsequent albums, especially with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns, taking directions into electronic, vocoded and treated vocals (thankfully not in the manner of most modern-day pop songs), delving into soundtrack work and began to ditch the long and expansive tracks over time into something touching conventionality but still maintaining the ethos they brought to the plate with the excellent Young Team.

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