Rumor has it that Mogwai was going to call their new album Pardon Our Dust As We Grow To Serve You Better. This third album, in truth titled Rock Action, is indeed a kind of restoration, but I’d argue that they’ve got the dust pretty much taken care of.
Don’t worry, fans, is still Mogwai, still sprawling 10+ minute songs, still oblique and muttering vocals, still layers and layers of pedal effects for the gearheads to drool over. But something has changed, some shaft of light has crept its way into the blasted heath that spawned this band and allowed them to make a most remarkable record.
Rock Action is normal LP length unlike the last effort, and while many are still epic length, some of the songs clock in at the standard three to five minutes. Artful and even cinematic strings decorate half the songs making the overall feel far more atmospheric, even ambient. This does not mean that they’ve abandoned the emotional realm for the heady realm of “intellectual” music like Tortoise, but it does mean they sound an awful lot less like Slint than they used to.
The best song on the album is “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong”. It starts with a simple, pleasing arpeggio on guitar accented by what seem to be other guitar effects but which reveal themselves upon further inspection to be effect-smothered voices punctuating the mid-range guitar with light flourishes. Then the rock beat kicks in, cymbals and all, and the whole thing just soars. Just as you think you might drop off the edge of the earth with pure abandonment they reel it back in, bring in a banjo of all thing to toggle out as the voices resolve into their human tenor and sweet harmony. This is no longer music for the peanut-strewn floor and cigarette stained back rooms of your emotional life: it is music for dreams of flying, for summer afternoons driving fast with the top down.
Also notable is the poignant and very short “O I Sleep”, which features melancholy piano, and the orchestral and epic “Dial: Revenge” with its snatches of unintelligible lyrics and almost hypnotic feel. Vocal help from Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals and several other recording sub-luminaries adds to the oblique, at times schizophrenic quality of this record, but it only makes it more satisfying when our Singer appears at last in the final, introspective track.
I do admit I sometimes missed the grinding but always intelligent angst of albums like Come On Die Young, but in the end it was worth it. Turn towards the light!