Music

Mogwai: Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003

Lance Teegarden

The band named after the cuddliest of characters from a Spielberg film unleashes a helping of BBC sessions. The late John Peel does the honors.


Mogwai

Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2005-02-22
UK Release Date: 2005-02-21
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

It takes about five minutes while listening to Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003 to realize that these surly bastards from Scotland calling themselves Mogwai are wholly uncompromising. "Hunted by a Freak", leadoff track from 2003's Happy Songs For Happy People, starts these proceedings as well and does so beautifully, as does the simple but affecting "New Paths to Helicon Pt. II", but it's not until the six-minute mark of "Like Herod" -- six songs in -- that a loud dissonant guitar chord strangulates the eardrum. If you know Mogwai, you were awaiting a hailstorm to come crashing down. It finally comes in an extended, 18-minute demonic freak-out version of "Like Herod" after what is essentially a 30-minute build-up. In all matters of song sequencing, this takes balls. Big ones. But this works remarkably well and is part of what makes this post-rock Glaswegian outfit so welcoming time and again, album after album. Displaying dexterity and a good dose of chutzpah, these recordings show a Mogwai still evolving right before our very eyes. And that's pretty good for a band currently at work on their fifth full-length.

Government Commissions is 10 songs compiled from BBC Radio 1 sessions with the late John Peel (the album is in memory of him) and Steve Lamacq. Both DJs were proponents of the band from the very early on, and Peel's introduction even opens this disc. But you don't need their stamp of approval; one listen to the glorious, drop everything and listen to this "New Paths to Helicon Pt. I" -- both first and second parts were originally titled "Helicon 1" and "Helicon 2" and can be found on 1997's singles compilation Ten Rapid -- and it's easier to understand why people started listening in the first place. These songs at times tend to sound not unlike some wounded exotic beast, whether somnambulant ("Hunted by a Freak", "Superheroes of BMX") or one that will wake up and tear your large intestine out with its claws (see parts of "Like Herod" and "New Paths to Helicon Pt. I").

Violent guitar outbursts aside, Mogwai have remained vocally unavailable for much of their career, but guitarist Stuart Braithwaite does a fine job with both "Cody" and "Secret Pint". Both songs lend some needed balance to the track list; the two vocal tracks are even spread out over two sides the way a traditional rock band might spread out an instrumental interlude or two. ("R U Still In 2 It?" from 1998's Young Team is performed here without vocals.) Fans of Rock Action's brevity and layered, intricate song structure may feign disappointment, as it's only represented here by "Secret Pint", but it's a minor quibble, really. The sheer joy of hearing "New Paths to Helicon Pt. I" glide effortlessly into "Stop Coming to My House" more than makes up for that. It's a surprise still when you look at the accompanying press release and realize these two songs were tracked five years apart from one another.

The press release accompanying this record also states that Government Commissions is a greatest hits record of sorts, but this really is a love letter to Mogwai fans, some who feel the intensity of the band's live performances have bettered their studio output. I mean, how else do you explain an 18-minute version of any song? A Mogwai fan letting a friend borrow Government Commissions as a primer is on some levels akin to giving your girlfriend Suitcase to listen to over the weekend because she wants a little Guided By Voices. But if reminding us how great a band can be is the purpose of any greatest hits record, than Government Commissions is it.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Music

Inventions' 'Continuous Portrait' Blurs the Grandiose and the Intimate

Explosions in the Sky and Eluvium side project, Inventions are best when they are navigating the distinction between modes in real-time on Continuous Portrait.

Music

Willie Jones Blends Country-Trap With Classic Banjo-Picking on "Trainwreck" (premiere)

Country artist Willie Jones' "Trainwreck" is an accessible summertime breakup tune that coolly meshes elements of the genre's past, present, and future.

Music

2011's 'A Different Compilation' and 2014 Album 'The Way' Are a Fitting Full Stop to Buzzcocks Past

In the conclusion of our survey of the post-reformation career of Buzzcocks, PopMatters looks at the final two discs of Cherry Red Records' comprehensive retrospective box-set.

Music

Elysia Crampton Creates an Unsettlingly Immersive Experience with ​'Ocorara 2010'

On Ocorara 2010, producer Elysia Crampton blends deeply meditative drones with "misreadings" of Latinx poets such as Jaime Saenz and Juan Roman Jimenez

Music

Indie Folk's Mt. Joy Believe That Love Will 'Rearrange Us'

Through vibrant imagery and inventive musicality, Rearrange Us showcases Americana band Mt. Joy's growth as individuals and musicians.

Music

"Without Us? There's No Music": An Interview With Raul Midón

Raul Midón discusses the fate of the art in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. "This is going to shake things up in ways that could be very positive. Especially for artists," he says.

Music

The Fall Go Transatlantic with 'Reformation! Post-TLC'

The Fall's Reformation! Post-TLC, originally released in 2007, teams Mark E. Smith with an almost all-American band, who he subsequently fired after a few months, leaving just one record and a few questions behind.

Film

Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.

Film

The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.