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21st Century Boys

Apr 11, 2014 Mogwai Bookmark and Share

Back in 1997 on their first-ever U.S. tour, in support of Pavement, Mogwai was anointed by no less an authority than Stephen Malkmus as “the first band of the 21st century.” When reminded of this, their guitarist Stuart Braithwaite says with a laugh, “We’re getting old! But that was a very nice thing for him to say.” And prophetic, given that the Glaswegians sound more vital than ever in 2014, 17 years after Malkmus’ proclamation, on the astounding Rave Tapes.

The band, rounded out by bassist Dominic Aitchison, drummer Martin Bulloch, guitarist/keyboardist Barry Burns, and guitarist John Cummings, once again recorded with ex-Delgados drummer Paul Savage, as with 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. “It was a pleasure,” Braithwate says of the partnership. “Paul’s a lovely guy. He knows what we’re trying to do, and he offers encouragement. It’s important that you look forward to seeing someone you’re recording with, since you’re around them so much under a lot of pressure.”

Savage also isn’t afraid to push the band out of its comfort zone, as he did with Braithwaite on the languid, winding ballad “Blues Hour,” a number redolent of band favorites Bill Callahan, Bedhead, and Low, and one that’s an aberration in the world of Mogwai, a track featuring vocals sung by a band member.

Braithwaite offers an affecting performance that exhibits a noticeable improvement over prior efforts such as “Take Me Somewhere Nice” from 2001’s Rock Action. “Paul told me that I needed to put as much effort into the vocals as the guitar,” he says. “Bring it up to standards, because I usually spend less than five minutes on vocals and hours and hours on guitars.”

The track’s also something of a stylistic departure on Rave Tapes, as the album largely swaps in gauzy electronic textures evocative of Aphex Twin and Kraftwerk, with a restrained touch of Kid A-esque melodic sensibilities.

Braithwaite attributes much of the album’s sound to the band’s infatuation with soundtracks, most prominently those of the early films of John Carpenter. “Those influences have always been there, but they’re maybe a bit more noticeable this time. Things like Carpenter’s The Fog, a lot of Italian horror films from the ‘70s, and some Ennio Morricone stuff.”

As is typically the case on Mogwai albums, one need not look further than the track titles for the band’s rather wicked, yet underappreciated sense of humor. “Yeah, they’re jokes usually, but a lot of French journalists are always trying to find some deeper meaning in them,” laughs Braithwaite. Pressed for elucidation, he reveals that first single “Simon Ferocious” is a reference to what Freddie Mercury mistakenly called Sid Vicious.

And the album’s final track, with its dramatic underpinnings of bleeding organ and deft washes of plangent percussion, seems to intimate the apocalyptic with its title “The Lord is Out of Control.”

“That’s from a YouTube video of an American woman whose air conditioner wasn’t working and didn’t know it,” says Braithwaite, cracking up. “She was really hot, and kept yelling, ‘The lord is out of control.’” Mogwaistill finding profundities in the mundane, 14 years into the 21st century.

[Note: This article first appeared in the February/March print issue (Issue 49).]


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