Although it’s been a full three years since Mogwai last released a studio album (the excellent Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will), they haven’t exactly sat back and relaxed. In the interim we’ve had remix project A Wrenched Virile Lore and the critically acclaimed, universally loved and hauntingly sublime soundtrack to everyone’s favourite French drama of the un-dead Les Revenants/The Returned. Despite the title, Rave Tapes shouldn’t be seen as a cue to reach for the Vics and DayGlo sticks. The Scottish post-rockers haven’t gone all four-to-the-floor on us and abandoned their usual understated restrained selves, instead continuing their dalliance with electronica a lá Hardcore.. but it’s also heavily influenced by the, dare we say it, more mature composition work of their soundtrack work.
The teaser off the album, ‘Remurdered’, is a case in point – mixing analogue synth arpeggios with their trade mark wall of guitar. The sonic alchemy is further down in the mix on this album than their hardened fans may like but it does allow for the emotive expressiveness of Les Revenants to surface. In truth there are plenty of standout tracks. The opening number ‘Heard About You Last Night’ is beautifully paced and arranged, the space in the production allowing it to breathe and offers room for the instrumental dialogue to be fully heard and savoured. At the other end of the record, ‘The Lord is Out Of Control’ has a denser sound but it still has enough light and shade to float by us like a vocoder led paean to times past and forgotten.
It’s not all rosy though. ‘Master Card’ and ‘Hexon Bloom’ are more reminiscent of older Mogwai and don’t sit as well in the album as they should. ‘Replenish’, with its vocal about the Satanic evils of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’, comes across like a Boards of Canada version of Mylo’s ‘Destroy Rock and Roll’. Such a mismatch unbalances the collection of songs and disrupts the continuity required to raise an album from being a very good one to a being a great one. But the quality of the stronger material still sees its through.
Rave Tapes is the sound of a band at a crossroads. Like their fellow Caledonian country men and women in the upcoming referendum on Scottish Independence, they have to decide which road they will travel next. Do they remain on the familiar track or do they head for the road less travelled. What path they and our Celtic cousins choose and whether or not it’s the right decision, only time will tell.