Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, the Matador Records quintet Mogwai has released its first disc since 2003’s Happy Songs for Happy People. Mogwai shows off with long and slowly developing instrumental tracks on its fifth studio album, Mr. Beast.
Over the past decade, the band’s post-rock sound has enjoyed comparisons to Slint and Sigur Ros, though its influences include anything from Sonic Youth to My Bloody Valentine. Laying down heavy bass riffs is Dominic Aitchison, while Barry Burns mixes in guitar, keyboards, and flute in always plaintive, melancholic effect. Stuart Braithwaite (guitar), John Cummings (guitar), Martin Bulloch (drums) round out the instrumentally meditative sound.
Leading off, “Auto Rock” sticks with the band’s traditional sound and is distinctive for its intensity and simple melodic progression with loads of distortion. It ends abruptly and leads to the next track, full of wailing guitars in a harder rock fashion repeated later in the disc.
Track four, “Travel is Dangerous” is ominously gorgeous in its opening measures, and just seconds in, gentle vocals explode into an addictive rock soundscape. The disc takes an approach that is more low-key at this point, and keyboards drive the sound on “Friend of the Night” and “Emergency Trap.” The sound on the latter becomes so faint at points that it is barely audible, but Mogwai purposefully stretches and suffocates instrumentals to compile an album that guides the listener through a rise and fall of music similar to the crest and plummet of ocean waves.
“I Chose Horses” lays soft, haunting notes over an incomprehensible string of words, which are in fact the vocals of Japanese hardcore singer Tetsuya Fukagawa (of the group Envy). This song seems without point or reason and adds nothing new to the mix. An apt closing track, “We’re Not Here” cranks the sound back up with plenty of electric distortion that brings the disc full circle.
Overall, Mogwai fans will find nothing hugely innovative about this album – not much pushing of the envelope from their traditional routine. But Mr. Beast is an intensely sonic showcase that will give newer listeners and long-time devotees another quality rock disc for their collections.