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The Hawk Is Howling
[Three stars]

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Nov 08, 2008

People usually have little patience for instrumental music, unless backed by a heavy Teutonic name or the fastest fingers in the business. That, perhaps, is the only real explanation for why Mogwai continue to stay relatively lesser known than post-rock contemporaries Sigur Ros. Because one would not be way off in suggesting that the Scottish band has perhaps been more versatile of the two, incorporating shoegaze, noise rock, metal, math rock and electronica in its big, melancholic, uplifting sound. After the great critical and commercial success of 2003’s Happy Songs For Happy People, one did begin to wonder about the obvious limitation though. While their soundtrack for the spectacular live docu Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait was praised by the few who saw the film, the follow up full-length (Mr Beast), though often brimming with angry potency, felt somewhat derivative and stunted compared to the profound HSHP. Hawk finds the band clawing back a lot of their previous aural spread and good nick: inhumanely long build-ups, sharper dynamics, better drum/bass and guitar/piano interplay, and deeper exploration of the typically sluggish hypnotic phrasing. After clearing the way with a classic exposition of their oeuvre on ”˜I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’, the quintet throw it all in with the murderous chiming metal work on ”˜Batcat’. From then on, the listener is taken by hand down the song list thanks to some impeccable programming; through the suddenly quiet ”˜Daphne And The Brain’, the unlikely pop foray ”˜The Sun Smells Too Loud’, the deafening eruption that comes at the end of ”˜I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School’, the thumping ”˜Scotland’s Shame’ and so forth. While there might not be many surprises here vis-à-vis Mogwai’s back catalogue, the record is infused by turn with enough guitar torture and meditation, enough adrenaline and sadness to help it stand alongside their best as another reassuringly emotional dream worth losing your time in.

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