For our beloved Daily Nexus readers who have not yet heard of Mogwai, I would briefly describe them as an instrumental rock band that utilizes the versatility of the electric guitar in all of its varied forms: overdriven, grunge crunch and even slide. Mogwai also uses synthetic fills that serve percussion and melodic purposes, setting them apart from all those other ethereal rock bands out there. They don’t cop out on songwriting, leaving the listener with a primordial soup of Moog noodling. For a sampling of typical Mogwai song structure, take the intro to their latest release, Mr. Beast. The album opens with a simple piano melody overlaid with analogue bloops. Layers of fuzzy, overdriven guitar weave over the foundation melodies and a low, hollow downbeat advances the song to its climax, building sonically and melodically off of the original piano work.
When I was listening to this album for the first time, I was immediately reminded of a dream I had the other night. In it, I was standing on the ledge of the Grand Canyon, peering into the giant gaping maw of the Colorado River. I noted the delicately layered stripes of color wrapping themselves around the perimeter of the gorge, stacked up in tall columns like giant sandwiches. Once I realized that I had the ability to fly, I took a running start and dove headlong into the chasm before me. I was soaring slowly over the edge of the cliff and then saw the sagebrushes and boulders drop away, leaving a gulf of two miles between me and the jagged canyon floor. I was shocked by the realization that I was so far from safety, and, as my heart dropped through my stomach, I lost the ability to fly and fell to the ground like a sack of bricks.
That moment of realization that bridges the gap between serenity and mind-numbing, cacophonous destruction is repeated throughout Mr. Beast, conveniently turning my dream into a metaphor for the album as a whole. The record opens and closes strongly, and my favorite tracks are the proverbial jelly to the donut: “Auto Rock,” “Folk Death 95,” and “I Chose Horses.” Layers of guitar, cymbals, bass and synth create an otherworldly sonic shimmer that you can almost slurp up with a boba straw. These moments don’t last for long, however, and are balanced with dissonant movements characterized by buildings crumbling, cars crashing and me, swan-diving head first into the Colorado River.
[Wile E. Coyote has got nothing on Rebecca Riley.]