Mogwai — The Hawk Is Howling

The Hawk Is Howling

If Mogwai’s 13 year progress was mapped out in the stages of human sexual development it would go something like this: Young Team the first efflorescence of lust felt but not understood while causing dismay in adults/guardians. Come On Die Young, the first confusing rampage through a genuinely bisexual terrain, the young death, the little death. Rock Action rocks off action with the start of an imperial period signified by both success and narcissism. Happy Songs For Happy People is marriage and stability if not faithfulness. Mr Beast, Self-imposed celibacy. This would leave The Hawk Is Howling fulfilling the role of impotence and frustration: the preparation for death.

But perhaps it is unfair to judge such a band on albums alone when most of their most sublime moments have been tucked away on EPs, singles and during live gigs. None of the long players above contain the sonic mission statements of ‘Angels Vs. Aliens’ or ‘New Paths To Helicon’ or the casually secreted away high water mark of ‘My Father, My King’ or even the visceral knock out punch of experiencing ‘Like Herod’ live in a smallish venue. The band themselves come across like a fan’s band and don’t wear the size they’ve grown to that well; or didn’t for a long time at least. But all of this aside, speaking as a fan, I find it very frustrating that there isn’t even one Totally Mogwai album. Not one total CD of Mogwai-esque brilliance – well, not one I’ve not burned myself. (The closest perhaps is the BBC sessions disc Government Commissions.)

Well, whatever the reasons for this, The Hawk Is Howling doesn’t change matters much. Despite living with this record (for the most part on a daily basis) for well over a month, big chunks of it do little to introduce themselves to the memory or emotional centres of the brain. Songs like ‘Daphne And The Brain’ wash over you in a cosmic-lite manner and, like a good bath, no matter how pleasant for the duration, is instantly forgettable. ‘I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School’ seems to have had more time spent on the title than tune or dynamics and ‘Thank You Space Expert’ can’t even claim that.

As always though, it’s worth sitting through these tracks to get to the gems. First up is the smacked-up, Axlerod nod-out vibe of ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ (which actually follows the popular misconception of what Mogwai songs are like, even though few actually are, in that it starts off quiet and builds inexorably to a pulsating crescendo. And, yes, things can build to a crescendo before anyone suggests otherwise). The first single ‘Batcat’ hits a classic, dynamic, machine tooled post rock riff – full of weight and suggestion that it’s just about to do something a hell of a lot more tuneful at any second, without ever giving in to the temptation. Best of all however – and simply one of the best tunes they’ve written – is the sumptuous 1970s-vibe laden, FM friendly ‘The Sun Smells Too Loud’, which captures that use-unusual-noises-to-make-AOR-music vibe that is going on at the moment with bands like MGMT and No Age and so on.

The AOR thing isn’t a throwaway remark. For a band who made such a public song and dance back in the day about how basic they found Blur’s song writing ability, the arrangements on this album are generally no more complex. This isn’t even remotely an impotent album but the pleasures contained within are comfortable and well-rehearsed. There are a few moments of sublime beauty and a few that are practically somnambulant but none that are athletic, eye-watering or markedly spontaneous. And given that elsewhere in the instrumental/post rock/post metal genre we’re being introduced to genius acts like Nadja, it’s hard not to feel like you’re being somewhat taken for granted.

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