Music Reviews
Rave Tapes

Mogwai Rave Tapes

(Sub Pop) Rating - 8/10

The future may have sounded like Rave Tapes thirty years ago. 

As a child, I remember being entranced by the now-primitive notion of the future, which was often an electrifying and colorfully robust world that was heavily populated by robotics, circuitry and infinite possibilities.  I do also remember, though, witnessing this utopia’s antithesis, a world overrun by machines or somehow traumatized by the society’s inevitable loss of human connectedness.  Staring at the cover of Mogwai’s eighth LP, this flat and vivid geometric design staring wide-eyed through a cyclone of circles and hexagons, the pulsating and, at times, paranoiac instrumentals that seem based in some antiquated understanding of how the future would sound is appropriate and engaging. 

Following Mogwai’s 2011 releases, Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will and the following Earth Division EP, (plus the soundtrack work that’s likely to have influenced the overall narrative this album seems to suggest), Rave Tapes sees Mogwai growing more comfortable with synthesizers and electronic percussion.  It’s difficult to hear a song like Simon Ferocious without immediately tapping Kraftwerk for comparison’s sake, an almost Autobahn level indifference or calculated contentment at work.  Though the electronics remark heavily, Mogwai don’t abandon guitars and there are some nice textures humanizing its otherwise programmed stride.  The album’s cinematic reach truly comes into play with Remurdered, a piece that could have easily featured in any Goblin or John Carpenter soundtrack from the late 70s or mid-80sDeesh has this slow and cold realization in volume, as if the morning-after wreckage of some apocalyptic event becomes apparent while the sun rises.  And the conspiracy at the core of Repelish, its narrator addressing the subliminal messages featured backwards in Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, recalls Cold War era televangelist-addled fear.  You can’t help but feel like Rave Tapes is looking backwards, addressing the anxiety of societal growth (then only theorized through allegory and imagination), either through technological dependency or ease of corruption.  Our fascination with a modern, enlightened and computerized world seems rooted in this point in time, (though we’ve grown dependent on technology, anyway). 

While Rave Tapes has a tendency to play like Tangerine Dream or Kraftwerk addressing a day in the life of Tron, Mogwai’s emotional core is still as apparent as usual, their post-rock glory seeping into their otherwise electrified work with traditional instrumentation.  As Hardcore Will Never Die more than hinted that Mogwai were going to pursue more electrified treatments, it was likely that Rave Tapes would exhibit the band’s complete transition into this type of sound (like Liars did with WIXIW).  Instead, the circuits often find themselves embedded into a construct that remains guitar-driven.  The album’s opener, Heard About You Last Night, uses synthesized tone to compliment lush guitar licks that hold most of the track’s focus.  With Hexon Bogon, the low end sort of lashes out amidst guitar howls and sonic swells of distortion.  And Mastercard is loosely riff-driven with pronounced tom thuds. Its primary melody is provided by keyboards, {theremin-like wails and keys), but you can’t discount the volume of rock sounds beneath.  Mogwai finds stasis with No Medicine for Regret, a heavy dose of both rock energy and synthesized modernity gelling into a very impassioned movement, which is interestingly sandwiched by the album’s two vocal offerings: Blues Hour and The Lord is Out of Control, one being a gorgeous piano ballad, the other a robotically pronounced lament.

This range in musical approach, which incorporates both familiar and still budding sensibilities, could seem like a lack of commitment on the band’s part to truly move forward creatively, (though it’s not far off from where the band were with Hardcore Will Never Die).  Somehow, though, Rave Tapes is a cohesive piece of work, its perspective blended despite variance in approach.  Honestly, Rave Tapes deserves a movie to score because it tells a story I would love to know more about.