ANY BAND WHO have existed for the best part of two decades without indulging in dramatic aesthetic costume changes run the risk of becoming part of the landscape. Mogwai have been blessed and cursed by not needing a great deal of cosmetic adjustment since their 1997 debut Mogwai Young Team. In their early days, the band might have often been observed behaving like a basket of intoxicated puppies, trying out their teeth on established pop bands and displaying a rough-and-tumble punk attitude, but even then they exhibited an innate sensitivity and a deep-seated understanding of elusive, in-between states: happy-sad, asleep-awake, and of course, quiet-loud. This enduring gift for capturing those twilit moments was most recently deployed to eloquent effect on the soundtrack for supernatural French drama Les Revenants (The Returned), a commission that added alive-dead to their liminal repertoire and - even more than their last album, 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will - showed why Mogwai shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Admittedly, Rave Tapes starts with the teary swoon of Heard About You Last Night, a reminder that they do often operate from a recognisable environment - office buildings glowing at night, blurred pylons, that kind of thing. Yet by second track Simon Ferocious (Freddie Mercury’s waspish name for Sid Vicious and proof their song-name file is still paying out), a real sense of urgency crashes in, the Tron-era synth lament ending in martial drums. Building suspense on an industrial scale, they follow it with Remurdered, the band playing gloriously with perspective, swooping up over twinkling lights and then down into the distorted black water. You think you’ve taken The Snowman’s hand for a pretty midnight journey: he turns round mid-flight with Nosferatu’s face.
Deesh is similarly drawn to the depths, underpinned by a Dr Who thrum, while the clipped Repelish underlines their fascination with big ugly rock signifiers, an earnest American voice warning against the satanic messages of Stairway To Heaven. “Mick Jagger, Alice Cooper, all the rock singers - they have a choice to make,” intones the moral crusader’s voice. “What about you? What will you choose?” As Master Card’s evil guitars burst in, the choice is clear.
There are moments that meander: Blues Hour is mellow to a fault, while No Medicine For Regret's ecclesiastical organ has been out-hymned by Tim Hecker's church music. Yet The Lord Is Out Of Control, dissolving in a wash of sadness and vocoders, proves their ability to hit the emotional centres of the brain over and over again. Yes, Rave Tapes doesn’t show Mogwai colonising new territory, but that seems fair when their own stretch of land is still giving up such gold.
Listen to Remurdered: