TWENTY YEARS ON FROM THEIR DEBUT, post-rock cornerstone Mogwai Young Team, this Lanarkshire-hatched massive have lately sculpted a tasty sideline as film soundtrackers extraordinaire. Since scoring 2006’s Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait – an abstract affair which triumphed commercially, thanks to its Franco-Algerian star’s infamous head-butt in that year’s World Cup Final – they’ve clinched a succession of plum commissions, including Atomic, Mark Cousins’ 2016 documentary about life under the nuclear shadow. Airing that one live, alongside Cousins’ visuals last year in Berkeley, California, 16 audience members were apparently stretchered out.
The once-lairy Scots’ high-volume potency remains beyond question. In the beginning, Mogwai took the artfully poised experimentalism of US ‘posties’ like Tortoise and blasted it heavenwards with punk-metal energy, alongside powerfully contrasting blissful passages.
Along a topsy-turvy career path, 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, as per title, saw them smashing it guitar-wise with amps at 11-plus, but this ninth album sees their cinematic explorations feeding back into their ‘main’ work – initially, at least. Every Country’s Sun reunites them with Dave Fridmann, their producer circa 1999-2001, whose analogue-cum-digital wizardry is a better fit than ever for the latterly computerised, synth-friendly Mogwai.
“In Berkeley, California, 16 audience members were stretchered out.”
Coolverine opens proceedings at a glide, as a burbling synth is soon deftly woven upon with chiming arpeggiated guitars, deep-bass anxiety, further keyboard textures and a mangled non-beat of textbook post-rock avoid-the-obviousness. Second up, Party In The Dark is, says keysman/guitarist Barry Burns, “as close to a radio hit as we’re likely to get”. Here, nutty guitarist Stuart Braithwaite almost-sings in a breathy psychedelically multitracked whirl – like a plangent Dinosaur Jr whipped through a wind-tunnel. It’s probably more 6Music than drive-time.
Going forward from there, Mogwai indulge their more filmic side: Brain Sweeties layers sunny synths on thumping trip-hop drums; Crossing The Road Material barrels along a sublime motorik groove, with sky-scraping crescendos; then into the moodier drum-free ambient atmospherics of aka 47, and 1000 Foot Face’s uneasy, Eno-esque serenity.
All this sets the listener up for a sucker-punch not unlike the one in Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn, where a bank-job flick suddenly left-turns into vampire horror, as Don’t Believe The Fife quietly simmers until four minutes in, when it suddenly unfurls into a widescreen epic, and, after a further 30 seconds, massive power chords arrive, for a coda of elevated riffing.
This whole ruse, akin to key early track Like Herod’s quiet-loud dynamic spun out over an album’s duration, leads from more guitar heaviosity through to a revelatory finale on the title track, which builds and builds to bowel-shaking proportions.
One might suspect that Mogwai, forever enthused by the binary options of extreme noize and mind-mashing calm, would’ve run out of steam by now. In a word: wrong.