Sound — 8
Mogwai is a band from Scotland (UK) that has been making post-rock/shoegaze music for about twenty years. The band's lineup of Stuart Braithwaite, Dominic Aitchison, Martin Bulloch, John Cummings, and Barry Burns has remained fairly consistent throughout the band's existence; there has been only one lineup change in the band's history and this change came over fifteen years ago. "Rave Tapes" is the band's first album in three years.
Something about Mogwai that has remained constant, other than its lineup, is its reliance on instrumental songs. "Rave Tapes" continues this trend, as only two of the songs have vocals, and one of those songs has just a person talking, not really vocals in the traditional sense.
Since Mogwai refrains from using vocals to fill the listener's mental capacity, they must use something else. One of the things that stands out on this album to me is Mogwai's ability to play so many diverse phrases/parts at once while retaining a coherent sound. Mogwai is able to combine, at some points, multiple keyboard parts, driving basslines, talkbox parts, and soft as well as hard guitars. The harmony they create is not euphoric so much as eclectic; it isn't the best sounding thing in the world but it's pretty unique. Just the thought that went into the placement of everything really shines through (assuming that they did, in fact take the time).
Even with this careful placement of parts, I can't make out the distinct vibe of the music. The song with the conversational voice, "REplenish," is definitely creepy and ominous, but I only get that feeling from the vocals, which discuss the satanic messages one can find when playing Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" backwards. Other than that, I would the describe the music as shifting all the way from dark to uplifting, with lots of room for interpretation in between. The wide room for interpretation is definitely one of the things that keeps this album relevant and unique in the mind of the listener. See, the music is interesting and varied enough that it keeps the listener engaged at all times. When the music finally breaks through to make a connection, the result is part elation, in that you've finally found something in the music, but also part wonder and mysticism in that you can immerse yourself in the music even more.
In terms of guitar work, everything is meant to play a role in creating the mood. There is only one real guitar solo and in each song, the guitars, however stylistically varied they may be, end up playing over-repeated phrases. Oftentimes, the guitars take a backseat to the synthesizers and bass; in fact, the guitars rarely take a central role in a song.
The drumming, synthesizing, and bass playing are slightly above average, each having its highlights throughout the album. While everything on this album, including these instruments, works together to create a harmonious vibe, the drumming is particularly poignant. The production of the album is average, doing nothing to either detract from or add to the vibes created by the album. This is unfortunate because better than decent production could have really put this album over the top, to the next level.
Lyrics — 7
The only vocals present on the album are on "REplenish" and one other which uses shoegaze vocals. I would say that the vocals, like almost everything else on this album, are well placed but only adequately executed. As I mentioned before, the vocals on "REplenish" create a distinctly creepy vibe that do a good job of enhancing the music. The extra shoegaze vocals later on change the pace of the album to keep it interesting. While the shoegaze vocals definitely keep the album interesting at this point, they are generic and, in my opinion, could have been used to the same effect on any other song. The lyrics sung on these songs are above average, mediocre at worst, attempting to add to the vibe like everything else. They do a good job of adding to the vibe and do discuss relatively structured topics as opposed to rambling on endlessly, without purpose.
Overall Impression — 7
Mogwai is continuing to make music in the same way they always have. They try to break a couple of boundaries with this album but it is really just more of the same for them. For Mogwai, everything is about creating a vibe. For me, that vibe didn't really hit home, but that shouldn't discourage anybody else. Regardless of the fact that I cannot successfully describe the vibe of the album, Mogwai still uses well-placed guitars and vocals to achieve an ambient effect with more direction than that of drone bands.
I believe that this album will satisfy current Mogwai fans but will not do an incredible amount to gain new fans because, as I said, this album is nothing new from a Mogwai perspective. Overall, I would rate this as a solid but not breathtaking release. For me, the best song on the album was "Remurdered."