Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mogwai - A Rough Guide

According to Wikipedia:
"Mogwai are a Scottish post-rock band, formed in 1995 in Glasgow. The
band typically compose lengthy guitar-based instrumental pieces that
feature dynamic contrast, melodic bass guitar lines, and heavy use of
distortion and effects. The band is named after the creatures from the
film Gremlins, although guitarist Stuart Braithwaite comments that 'it
has no significant meaning and we always intended on getting a better
one, but like a lot of other things we never got round to it'. 'Mogwai'
means 'evil spirit' or 'devil' in Cantonese."

I started listening to Mogwai after reading that the band was similar in
style to Sigur Rós (featured in an earlier rough guide).  Mogwai's music
ranges from slow, majestic pieces to harder-edged, rock-out tracks.  The
band's album and track titles may appear morbid, but I think this is
largely tongue-in-cheek.

The band's official website:

The links in the guide below are to YouTube movies.  If the links are
blocked, try searching for tracks on SoundCloud:

Now, the "rough guide" ...

1. "Summer"
This is one of the band's early singles.  It was later re-recorded for
the band's first studio album.  A notable difference between this and
the album version is the use of a glockenspiel to play the melody line.
This makes for a more dynamic contrast with the heavily distorted
guitars that crash in at various points in the song.  The original
version is available on a compilation of early singles and b-sides,
called "Ten Rapid".

2. "Tracy"
After a couple of singles and EPs, the band's debut album "Mogwai Young
Team" was released in 1997.  It gained many favourable reviews.  "Tracy"
is a great example of a dreamy instrumental soundscape that is typical
of the band's repertoire.  It starts softly, gradually building in
intensity towards the middle, before receding back into the distance.
The song is bookended with excerpts from phone conversations between
band members.  This is not an official video.

Other highlights from the debut album include the short piano piece
"Radar Maker", and the sprawling epics "Like Herod" and "Mogwai Fear

The band's second album, "Come On Die Young" was released in 1999.  It
wasn't that well received by critics.  I haven't listened to the whole
album, so I can't comment.  Interestingly, one track, "Cody", actually
has normal-sounding lyrics.

3. "Sine Wave"
In 2001 the band's third studio album, "Rock Action" was released.  This
is the opening track.  Various instruments are used, including a spacey
synth, glockenspiel, heavily distorted percussion (I think) and vocals.
Lots of weird and wonderful sonic textures.

4. "Dial: Revenge"
This track has Welsh vocals, written and sung by Gruff Rhys of Super
Furry Animals.  This is a video of a live version.

Possibly in response to the "play by numbers" criticism of the previous
album, the overall sound was more experimental on "Rock Action".  Other
highlights include "Take Me Somewhere Nice" and "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong",
which both feature lush string and horn arrangements.

5. "Hunted By A Freak"
The band's fourth album, "Happy Songs for Happy People", was released in
2003.  This is the official video of the great opening track.  I like
the use of the cello in the middle.  Don't take the opening titles on
the video seriously.  This is just the band's black humour, and is
possibly an homage to "Happy Tree Friends" cartoons.

6. "Ratts Of The Capital"
This is the album's epic centrepiece.  It has the band's characteristic
slow-build, intense middle-section and gradual fade-out style.  But it
still manages to sound fresh thanks to the use of different sounds and

7. "I Know You Are, But What Am I?"
The minimalist piano that underpins the song reminds me a little of the
"dripping" piano line from Chopin's "Raindrop" prelude, albeit greatly
slowed down.

Other highlights from the album include ominous-sounding "Kids Will Be
Skeletons", and "Golden Porsche" with its mellow piano and bass.

8. "Auto Rock"
This track opens the band's fifth studio album, "Mr Beast", released in
2006.  It used the trademark Mogwai structure, this time using a piano
riff to provide the main melody line.  Apparently the song has been used
in TV's Top Gear.

9. "Friend Of The Night"
This was the only single released from "Mr Beast".  Another piano-
centric piece.  The band was starting to get noticed commercially, this
track being the band's first UK Top 40 single.  I don't know what's
going on in the video, something to do with vampires maybe, but the song
is great.

Another piano-based highlight is "Team Handed".  Other standout tracks
on the album, like "Glasgow Mega-Snake", and "We're No Here", have a
more raucous edge thanks to the use of distorted guitars.

10. "Batcat"
This quasi-metal workout was the first single from the band's sixth
album, "The Hawk Is Howling", released in 2008.  The official video is a
bit scary too.

11. "Danphe And The Brain"
A softer, more melodic piece from "The Hawk Is Howling".

Other highlights include the wonderfully titled "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm
Dead" and "The Sun Smells Too Loud" (I want to sneak in a reference to
synesthesia into this guide).  "Scotland's Shame" is another
characteristic slow-building epic.

Mogwai released its first official live album, "Special Moves", in 2010.
Check out the mogwaiTV YouTube Channel for excerpts from the
accompanying tour film:

12. "Mexican Grand Prix"
Mogwai's seventh studio album, "Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will"
was released in 2011.  This single is one of the very rare Mogwai tracks
to feature vocals.  As such, it sounds more like a typical rock song,
reminiscent of late era Primal Scream.

13. "San Pedro"
Another great rocking instrumental.

14. "Death Rays"
This spine-tingling track is built around a great organ melody.

Overall, another solid effort.  Other strong tracks include "White
Noise", "Letters to the Metro" and "Too Raging to Cheers".