"the hawk is howling"
22nd september 2008|
i'm jim morrison, i'm dead
danphe and the brain
the sun smells too loud
i love you, i'm going to blow up your school
thank you space expert
dracula family (japan only)
stupid prick gets chased by the polis and loses his slut girlfriend (japan only)
devil rides (japan only)
limited deluxe cd+dvd in gatefold digipak includes:
adelia, i want to love (a film by vincent moon & teresa eggers)
batcat (video, director: dominic hailstone)
the batcat animation (created by fernando alberto mena rojas)
the vincent moon/teresa eggers short film was originally titled "before it sounds", and was filmed in italy in july 2008.
the mix of 'batcat' is different to that featured on the batcat ep.
the japanese bonus tracks were previously issued in the uk on the 'rock action spring 2008 sampler' (dracula family) and the batcat ep (stupid prick, devil rides)
sleeve artwork by aidan moffat
charted at no.35 in the uk (28th september 2008)
nme - 32nd best album of 2008
piccadilly records - 43rd best album of 2008
international release dates|
japan: 17th september 2008
usa: 23rd september 2008
australia: 27th september 2008
uk/europe cd: pias [WOS040CD]
uk/europe cd/dvd: pias [WOS040CDX]
uk/europe 2 x lp: pias [WOS040DLP]
usa: matador [ole-832]
japan: hostess [HSE30201]
australia: spunk [URA270]
sixth album. just over 63 minutes long. entirely instrumental.
'the sun smells too loud' was recorded by tony doogan at castle of doom in summer 2007. the final batch of recording took place in february 2008 with andy miller at chem19 studio in hamilton, with the studio booked for the entire month. mixing started on 10th march 2008 with gareth jones at castle of doom, and was completed by the end of the month. mastered at abbey road by sean magee in april 2008.
'the hawk is howling' is the final album under mogwai's deal with pias. the first release was 'rock action' in 2001.
the first album to feature dominic aitchison as a songwriter ('i love you, i'm going to blow up your school') since 'come on die young'. 'batcat' was written by john cummings.
'i love you, i'm going to blow up your school', 'scotland's shame', 'i'm jim morrison, i'm dead', 'batcat', 'thank you space expert' and 'the precipice' were debuted live at the tramway, glasgow on 26th april 2008.
"the sun smells too loud: this came from a conversation between barry and me during one of (many) car rides to rehearsal. i think we were trying to come up with the most random sentence we could think of." - stuart, july 2008.
"q: there’s a track on the new album called ‘scotland’s shame’ which refers to the nickname celtic fans have given to their rangers-supporting friends across the city.
a: i probably shouldn’t say it, but i love telling people these stories. that one was originally called ‘robocop versus the orange walk’. after some debate, it was suggested that we change it to something else." - barry, august 2008
bowed mandolin on 'scotland's shame' recorded by andy whitelock in a high rise flat in motherwell, 2004. under its original title, ‘robocop versus the orange walk', this was listed amongst tracks recorded for 'mr beast' in 2005.
stuart, july 2008:
'stupid prick gets chased by the police and loses his slut girlfriend': last summer we were commissioned to score a film called paraiso travel. after we explained that we had a short space of time to record the music we recorded and delivered the rough mixes only for them to be rejected and us to be sacked without receiving any money towards our costs incurred. it was without doubt the most unprofessional way that we have ever been treated and we are still owed a substantial amount of money from the film makers. the song title is a description of what happens in the opening scene of the film. 'thank you space expert' (a quote from a news anchor) was also written originally for the film and by rights should be called stupid prick finds that his slut girlfriend has gone the whole hog and become a prostitute and now lives in a trailer park in somewhere shite in america. ha, i've just given away the ending of their rubbish film. lynn fainchtein the music producer is a deceitful liar.
a 'drowned in sound' interview with stuart (august 2007) suggested that four tracks were finished:
recording sessions took place at various points during 2007, but most of the work done at these doesn't appear to have been used on the album.
from billboard.com, july 2008:
work on the album began last summer, but only one song from those early sessions wound up making the final cut. "we decided we could do better," group member stuart braithwaite tells billboard.com. "we definitely concentrated [this time] on making something we were happy with."
the 10 cuts extend the band's trademark blend of soft, melodic meanderings with punishing noise, but absent are the vocals that have peppered albums of the past.
"the hawk is howling" also reteams mogwai with andy miller, who produced "young team." "it doesn't feel like much had changed," braithwaite says. "i think he really wants the bands to play the way they can, and i don't think he uses any gimmicks. we had a hard time recording ['young team'], but thankfully the five records we've made since have been a lot smoother."
from daily yomuiri, jan 2009:
the record sees a songwriting return for bassist dominic aitchison on "i love you, i'm going to blow up your school," a track that appears to have caused some consternation.
"honestly, i did not understand what was going on with that song, i really didn't, i just thought he'd lost his mind," braithwaite admits.
and burns is in full agreement.
"i didn't get it for ages and dominic hasn't written songs for 10 years for a record, so it was probably quite a big step for him to do it as well. he's just got a really strange way of structuring songs but they seem to be quite interesting, i quite like the way he does it," he says, before the pair of them crease up with laughter at braithwaite's observation that, "he's rejected the abba model!"
from http://www.ziarecords.com/article/5772, nov 2008:
when mogwai bassist dominic aitchison was young, he fancied a girl who attended a different school than him. because of their academic separation, he felt like the montague to her capulet. so, to get this young lady's attention, the budding romeo called her school, told them he was in the palestine liberation organization (a violent, radical pro-arab political group that threatened the state of israel) and said he was going to blow up her school.
"i can't imagine anyone was actually really worried by the threat of a young boy claiming to be in the plo with a slight bit of a glasgow accent," says john cummings, guitarist/keyboardist in mogwai. "somebody recently suggested that the [song] title was taken from heathers," says cummings. "and that's not the case, either."
mogwai's sixth full-length cd the hawk is howling contains all the extremity and dynamics you know and love, but with a more curious array of rhythms and melodies, hinting a bit more than previous records at both their electronic and metal influences. additionally, with only two songs under the five-minute mark, this is maybe their most "cinematic"-sounding record to date (which is saying something).
and this testimony from famed crime writer & mogwai freak ian rankin:
you shouldn’t be reading this. it’s completely redundant. there are no lyrics on this album, so all the potency, texture and variation of moods come from instruments alone. mogwai paint pictures in sound; no words needed.
this makes them hellish hard to write about. everything is in the ear of the beholder: i may hear sadness where you hear laughter. if writing about music really is akin to dancing about architecture, how can anyone hope to write about mogwai? which is why you shouldn’t be reading. it’s also why i shouldn’t be writing the text i’ve just told you not to bother reading. i pen hundreds of thousands of words each year, and sometimes feel i’m contributing to an ongoing problem. there are too many words in the world. we are bombarded by them. we pass by street-signs as we read our latest phone-texts, on our way to the shops with their proliferation of labels and adverts. words scroll across our tv screens. they fill our style mags and free newspapers. they are plastered across our buses and phone-boxes. but words can lie and, hell, even at their best they lack precision. it would take screeds of them to begin to unpack any one track on this album - a track such as the opener, ‘i’m jim morrison, i’m dead’. despite the irreverent title (and mogwai love an intriguing title, especially one that hoodwinks the listener), this is a poignant tune, but it is the calm before the storm of ‘batcat’, a ferocious and heartfelt thrash that harks back to the early ‘gonzo’ mogwai of albums such as ‘ten rapid’ and ‘young team’.
glasgow remains the band’s hunting ground, providing a source of continuing inspiration - the sounds of urban fracture, of desperate nights, fights and high-rise love affairs. romance is fleeting but palpable in a track such as ‘local authority’ (see what i mean about mogwai and their song-titles?), while ‘scotland’s shame’ seems to me one of the group’s most personal songs.
‘the sun smells too loud’ sounds the sort of phrase a pal might utter after too much summertime cider. but it could also be a nod towards synaesthesia, which would only be fitting, as mogwai’s music does conjure up colours, emotions and pictures. this is one of the most upbeat tracks on what is predominantly a chilled album - rizlas and cheap hooch in the park, and worlds waiting to be conquered tomorrow. ‘king’s meadow’ continues the mood, taking us out of the park, homeward bound: music for day’s end. ‘i love you, i’m going to blow up your school’ (with its titular nod towards cult film ‘heathers’) adds an undercurrent of continuous menace which finally explodes six minutes in, its drama heightened by the protracted build-up. ‘thank you, space expert’ meantime is the closest thing on the album to a twenty-first century lament. maybe i’ve been at the cheap cider myself, but its melody seems to me to lend itself to massed bagpipes - and isn’t that something to contemplate? then again, maybe it’s just me. (are you still reading…?)
and so we come to the final song in this elegant and elegiac hour-long set… and it’s a barnstormer, a guitar-heavy pelter that leads the listener, step by cautious step, towards the precipice of its title. but when we step off, do we end up tombstoning or do we soar and howl like the hawk? that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself. all i know is, eleven years in mogwai still sound like the future, their five-strong core membership still the coolest gang in town.
i’m about to stop writing. you’re about stop reading. we’re going to listen instead. --ian rankin
thequietus | slant magazine | godisinthetvzine.co.uk
the georgetown voice | prefix | the skinny | time out new york
the scotsman | oc weekly | drowned in sound | trinity news
pitchforkmedia | popmatters | austintownhall.com
aversion | metro | daily californian | advance-titan | isthismusic?
tiny mix tapes | lost at sea | treble | time out chicago
the latest from glasgow's post-rock pioneers expounds on the melodic beauty of 2006's mr beast. i'm jim morrison, i'm dead - a requiem of lost promise but few regrets - sets the mood, the backward guitar notes slipping and sliding like the doors singer in his final bath. masters of the soft/loud dynamic, the band create a wall of sound that reaches beyond the tumultuous guitars, discovering twinkling optimism in fragile instrumentation and sensitive synths. the lyric-free songs are awe-inspiring, yet accessible. the unapologetically heavy rocker batcat sounds like loop slugging it out with slayer, but it's a rare moment of aggression, like the vengeful noise of the precipice. the sun smells too loud has more than a whiff of pop about it, and scotland's shame sparkles like light bouncing off broken glass. not so much a progression, then, as an hour-long polishing of mogwai's new aesthetic.
4 stars (betty clarke)
mogwai recently released a deluxe 10th-anniversary edition of their debut, young team, which opens with a girl testifying on the majesty of her favorite band: "if the stars had a sound, it would sound like this." now that's brassy, but then mogwai were a brassy band back in those days, what with their reputation for mocking their britrock cohorts ("blur are shite") and an assumed mandate to shake the pillars of heaven via their rock action. conveniently, they had the sound to back it up: that record did sound like the stars, like a huge, dumb shower of light and fire, all sad and epic and full of hope and kind of scary. its final track, the 16-minute "mogwai fear satan," was such an unstable mix of brutal noise orbiting around shimmering tenderness that it was old gooseberry himself who needed to watch his back, not the other way around. thus, the album became a touchstone for an entire generation of explosions in the sky. if you enjoyed that band's plucky notes of wistful triumph during many a 2008 olympic montage, you have young team's inspiration to thank.
over the past decade, however, as mogwai have grown increasingly adept in the studio—the production slicker, the songs shorter, sturdier, and more lustrous—they've perfected their craft nearly to the point of rendering it innocuous. the hawk is howling doesn't stop this slide, but it does manage to slow it down considerably. reuniting with andy miller, who produced some of their earliest and best tunes (including "helicon 1"), the band is finally taking its time again with these songs, something they've remained great at onstage (where their earliest songs remain staples) but have struggled with on record. in contrast to many of the tunes on recent offerings like mr. beast and happy songs for happy people, new jams like "scotland's shame" and opener "i'm jim morrison, i'm dead" (the titles are top-notch throughout) enjoy the blissful build-ups—measure by languid measure—with which the band made its name, and throughout, you can finally hear the layers of guitars, bass, and keyboards that past records compressed into a solid brick of sound.
true to form, mogwai still balance out the beefy guitar assault of a song like "batcat" with the atmospheric sweetness of "local authority," but for the first time in their career, they manage to synthesize both approaches on "the sun smells too loud," the band's first jaunty tune ever, featuring a lock-step backbeat, sparkling atmospherics, and a chunky melody line. it's a page out of mogwai grandchildren ratatat's playbook, and it shows these scots doing something we haven't seen them do in a while: evolve. who says you can't teach an old team new tricks?
modern musicians have been making instrumental music for decades. ever since the dawn of the digital age songs without vocals have existed from mike oldfield and jean michel jarre to orbital, the purity of music has been put to the forefront. with bands like pink floyd and dire straits and the concept of the ‘guitar solo’, music took on a whole new dimension and it seemed acceptable to play with structure and arrangement; to create eight minute songs full of ‘atmosphere’ and leave wide open spaces free from vocals. so it was inevitable that a band such as mogwai should exist. they have bridged the gap left by the dance genre bands and picked up guitars again. this is instrumental music made using rock instruments. ‘the hawk is howling’ is the sixth album from mogwai and at an hour in length, it is a huge achievement.
the absence of lyrics in the music of mogwai is what makes it so interesting. one’s focus is purely on the sounds and textures generated from musical expression and not by words and voice. only the title of each song is a guide. yes, vocals can be an instrument in their own right (see thor birgisson from sigur rós) but more often than not, the lyrics direct a specific listening path - not the voice itself. you just don’t get that with mogwai. their creations are more than just background music without a vocalist. each musician becomes one voice. and the music sings.
‘the hawk is howling’ opens with the magnificent ‘i’m jim morrison, i’m dead’, beginning as simple piano and guitar before the instrumentation fills out two minutes in as a series of dreamy chord changes set to a ghostly backdrop. the drums and cymbals build slowly to a climax; a mood drenched melody of keys, guitars, drums and ultimately a swathe of squealing strings. the chaotic ending, cumulating with a cartoon sound of a television set being switched off at the socket, is meticulously planned. it is what we expect - no demand - from the opening track of a new mogwai album.
the start of ‘batcat’ brings in more noise - guitars first then huge pounding drums. the guitar work, a mesmerising blur of multiple layers, is astonishing. the song threatens to settle down two minutes in but remains a crouching tiger, waiting for prey to pass. a brief interlude of grinding buzzing guitars leads into the powerful last section, taken over by a constant barrage of percussion and seemingly random blasts of aggression, before a sudden halt. ‘danphe and the brain’ is a much more subdued electronic based piece, gliding rather than punching its way through five minutes of subtlety and poise. the mid-section builds briefly then immediately softens to fall away again, plunging into a soft bed of strings and peppery drums. the inevitable build up arrives late, lifting the music to a predictable crescendo underpinned with more squealing guitars.
the sultry guitars of ‘local authority’ generate another achingly beautiful song, undulating and flowing with ambient atmosphere. this is the shortest and most gentle track on the album, taking time on its four minute journey. it leads neatly into ‘the sun smells too loud’, a massive swirl of churning drums and guitars centred with a startling hazy summers day riff. at the three minute mark heavy keyboards stomp in and the electronics create a more artificial blend before the guitars return, tribal drums echoing the sound. the second half provides little variation and instead of a rousing climax, the music simply drifts away into waves of static.
‘kings meadow’ could be about many things but is most likely the acknowledgement of the top field at glastonbury - one of the most spiritual places in the uk. this is represented in a very delicate ethereal piece which shimmers with hidden energy and elegance. the subtlety of piano and rain-like percussion coupled with a simple guitar creates visions of dancing, meditation and a soft shower through sunlight. the perception of simplicity has never been so complex.
into the last four tracks and half an hour of the album remains. the intriguingly named ‘i love you, i’m going to blow up your school’ is nothing short of astonishing. a song in many parts: the first minute is the most ambient part of the album, composed of fragile bass guitar before the second minute introduces more layers and a piano. the mesmerising arrangement drifts into the fourth minute with more exquisite guitar work (very reminiscent of tool). half way through and the atmosphere is becoming cold and menacing, the music building and then falling away again, only to come back stronger in the last two minutes - powerful and threatening - and then exploding in a release of built up tension and bottled up rage. a torrent of grinding guitars scream out in a series of spiralling aftershocks, leaving only buzzing guitars in the crumbling smouldering wreckage. it is a horror movie fuelled love song, lacking political correctness but remains the ultimate expressive metaphor.
the eight minute epic ‘scotland’s shame’ opens with a buzzing church organ effect, joined by more wavering electronics and then a heavy menacing drum track. the guitars take over, laying down a melody across the persistent drums while others sing out in falsetto like a string based choir of angels. the song plods onward relentlessly without dragging and descends into a simple arrangement of pounding echoing drums and a last minute which genuinely sounds like distorted vocals amid the fizzing guitars. it ends full circle back with the church organ. ‘thank you space expert’ has a desperately laboured opening but is rescued by some stunning guitars. this is followed by nearly two minutes of wide open space before vibrating back into life with the most heart wrenching piano - dramatic yet understated, controlled and free. if they ever remake 2001: a space odyssey they will use this instead of the blue danube.
‘the hawk is howling’ closes with a finale worthy of the mogwai name. ‘the precipice’ takes a couple of minutes to start building and then a full minute and a half of guitars and drums to metamorphose into something a lot more substantial. this echoes ‘we no here’ (the end of ‘mr. beast’) with added melody and purpose; a much more satisfying conclusion to the album and a remarkable hour of music.
mogwai has deconstructed the enormous ferocity of ‘mr. beast’ and rebuilt it with the delicate stirrings of ‘happy songs for happy people’ to create a hybrid full of tension, sensitivity and breathtaking beauty. it is an evolved sound safe within acquired boundaries, never straying from the true path but occasionally allowing for brief excursions. if anything the music is so distinctive and so constrained within mogwai’s wonderful world that it becomes a bit too familiar. but there is enough variation and sheer unadulterated supreme musicianship on ‘the hawk is howling’ that between the new and the old it is always balanced and controlled. when it is this good, they don’t need words. mogwai has always let the music do the talking.
chris sheerin (10/10)
mogwai's the hawk is howling is fantastic. i've had it on repeat since stuart sent me a copy in august. with this album and their tour with the mighty fuck buttons, they're set to own september.
i managed mogwai for a couple of years and, as people, they are funny guys, known for their antics. who can forget the "blur: are shite" t-shirts? or, for that matter, the bile-fuelled rants at pitchfork, james blunt, annie lennox or the tragic break-up of test-icicles?
mogwai are always bemused by the world outside of mogwai. in fact, i think they took the idea of team mogwai (from their debut) seriously - they wanted to be in a gang and they are, albeit a gang of glaswegian piss-takers who happen to be very serious about their music.
in may, they reissued mogwai young team, their debut record that sent everyone over the superlative edge in 1997. the release of these two albums, almost back to back, is a not-so-subtle reminder that mogwai are the united kingdom's premier art-rock act.
every record, every show, is a surround-sound, heavy experience: from the super intense mogwai young team to the more electronic happy songs for happy people and the brutal mr beast.
mogwai exist in an isolated mogwai world and that's why they've outlived "post-rock" and other media tags. they make their music and their moves in a punk-rock fashion, serving their music and not trends. i keep coming back to the point of isolation because i believe that isolation makes for the best art.
each release takes on board eclectic influences, from the super stoner-rock of black sabbath, om and sleep to the post-punk of new order, the cure and joy division, and quiet freedom in repetition motifs (as pioneered by terry riley, steve reich and brian eno).
the favoured adjective when describing mogwai is "cinematic". the band take sound composition seriously and their recent soundtrack work has left a mark on the hawk is howling. each track projects imaginary films into your head. the filmic appeal is present in the spiritual uplift of the baroque thank you space expert, the shimmering space rock of i'm jim morrison, i'm dead, or the endless space boogie of danphe and the brain.
in case you forget that mogwai is all about the rock, batcat will remind you immediately: a propulsive number reminiscent of dopesmoker by sleep. an electronic element is also played out on many songs, with stupid prick gets chased by the police and loses his slut girlfriend (from the batcat ep) marrying the minimal bleep bleakness of a kompakt or cluster record to their sound.
mogwai even participated in the resurrection of (13th floor elevators) roky erickson's recording career with their collaboration on devil rides, a fitting, creepy-crawly tribute to the psychedelic legend that closed the batcat ep.
no wonder mogwai's music has brought them the respect of the cure and the pixies (both of whom brought them along on tour) and constant accolades which are much deserved. the hawk is howling is another artistic peak - a beautiful, instrumental protest record for people who don't enjoy being told what to feel.
review from 'mojo' magazine, october 2008|
sixth studio album by post-rock's young team, now in their second decade.
'the hawk is howling' finds glasgow's guitar army relaxing the taut, economical songcraft of its 2006 predecessor, 'mr beast' and setting a new standard for irreverent track titles. 'i'm jim morrison, i'm dead' establishes the mood, its stately piano theme enveloped over seven rapt minutes of glacial sonic drift. 'batcat's muscular contours could go toe-to-toe with ambient metal kingpins isis, while 'the sun smells too loud' hoists a cute, hummable melody on ecstatic shafts of synth-tipped uplift. 'i love you, i'm going to blow up your school' lets the dark in, a mini-masterpiece of pensive six-string scenery and feedback-chewing climax. curious fact: although often regarded as instrumentalists, this is the first mogwai album proper (excluding their zidane soundtrack) to be entirely vocal-free.
manish agarwal (4 stars)
review from 'uncut' magazine, october 2008|
scottish feedback wrestlers glide to a sixth.
if mogwai had taken a leave of absence after 1999's 'come on die young', they might be returning to my bloody valentine-sized degrees of anticipation. instead, the last decade has seen them adulterate their formula by degrees, gradually smoothing their brooding edge to a more serene, melodic state. 'batcat' squalls with some of the brio of old, recalling the hasidic-inspired airs of past epic 'my father my king', but neatest is 'the sun smells too loud', yearning melodies arrayed in cascading, interlocking layers. fine, but no surprises.
louis pattison (3 stars)
review from the birmingham post by simon harper|
in the eleven years since glaswegian post-rockers mogwai released their astonishing debut, young team, they've gradually moved away from the blistering feedback of old in favour of more sedate delights.
their latest offering, the hawk is howling, is their sixth studio album and finds them at their most polished yet. over the course of an hour, slow-building songs ebb and flow at a stately tempo, with keys and electronic gurgles at the forefront, but devoid of the rough edges which made their earliest singles such a noisy joy.
one exception is batcat, which snarls and careens at a frenetic pace - loud and feral, it's a welcome noisy offering which underlines the quintet's love of metal. but on a record which harks back to their second outing, come on die young, there's a spidery, insidious feel which creeps up on the listener.
thank you space expert twinkles in all of the right places, a beautifully evocative lament which ranks among the most elegant melodies they've recorded. having swapped the almost schizophrenic volume shifts of old for a more grandiose touch, there's a sense of balance and calm to their music now; expansive and pretty but still with a dark heart underneath.
the new mogwai album is here complete with cover art that's either horrendous or brilliant depending on which of us in the office you happen to be asking.. personally i just can't make my mind up. 'the hawk is howling' is a good record but one or two departures aside it's really just the same one they've been making since 2000. the standout for me is the excellent 'the sun smells too loud' which i plan on playing at our next armley beach party while we all play near-naked volleyball like we're in top gun (you should see the jiggle on brian's baps when he serves) and it's probably no coincidence that it's the one that sounds the least like anything else they've produced. obviously the result is still better than most bands out there and streets ahead of the endless stream of imitators that have continued to be vomited out by the world over the course of their lifetime but still, anyone hoping that this would be the one that really cemented their status as one of the greats is going to be feeling deflated yet again. they've still not come close to topping the stuff they did prior to the turn of the century and sadly i'm starting to think that there won't ever be a real record of what the band always seemed to be capable of. their live shows used to be incredible, transcendent experiences which suggested countless directions and forms their music could take, but it seems this whole side of the band is destined to be lost in the ether as they settle into providing a good, solid listen every couple of years. the brilliant, organ drone-infused 'black spider 2' from the zidane soundtrack suggested to me that they might still have something spectacular in the closet but sadly there's been precious little evidence of it since. this band definitely had at least one masterpiece in them and for me it's one of modern music's greatest disappointments that we'll probably never see it. anyway, there's nothing wrong with this lp whatsoever, it's good in fact. it's just mogwai. and it's a bit weird that they're on wall of sound now, innit? they might've at least put a token big beat banger on there. the cd version comes complete with a dvd offering a pretty slight 25 minute documentary and a couple of videos for 'batcat'.
review from boomkat, 19th sept 2008|
mogwai seldom do much wrong when it comes to their lps. you'd be pretty hard-pressed to find a dud amongst their previous five studio albums (or six, if you include the zidane: a 21st century portrait soundtrack) but the band are hardly prone to deviating too far from their own, massively influential blueprint. following on from the 2006's mr beast, the hawk is howling does however feel like a more sedate, contemplative affair, and despite the thunderous riffology of single 'batcat', many of this album's most memorable moments arise during quieter passages: 'danphe and the brain' soars majestically, buoyed on by carefully intertwined guitars, classic mogwai melodic developments and a dash of electronic upholstery, while 'local authority' is propelled by brooding, barely restrained emotional intensity. midway through the album 'the sun smells too loud' makes a move into bright, effervescent electronic tones, marking a shortlived turn towards more upbeat sounds. the two closing pieces on the album present a strong showing too, bringing forth the slow motion space rock of 'thank you space expert' before a final, metallic parting shot in the form of 'the precipice' reminds us that this is a band who know how to give your eardrums a workout. very good indeed. ...
it must be pretty frustrating being in mogwai, 'cause no matter what you do, no matter how far you push and stretch your sound, people just want to hear young team. not that we can blame them - see the young team review elsewhere on the aq site, and observe us gushing appropriately over the record that probably is single handedly responsible for about half of the indie rock made today. but you know, that probably happens to every successful band. can you imagine if you had gone to see my bloody valentine on their recent reunion tour and they didn't play -anything- off of loveless, just new songs? we went to see dio once a while back, and all we wanted to hear was old stuff (of course) but instead he played his newly released concept record all the way through. more power to him but geeze. still, we do understand, no matter how awesome a song is, no one wants to be playing it forever. think about the stones playing “satisfaction”. how long have they been playing that song? 40 years? sheesh!
anyway, in most fans' eyes, mogwai can do no wrong, and even if they continue to not make young team part 2, they do continue to make awesome records. their grasp of dynamics, and their ability to make an extended instrumental not only interesting but rocking and catchy as well, far surpasses most of the bands who want to be them, and very little has changed on the hawk is howling. while the record starts off with the stately and serene (and awesomely titled “i'm jim morrison, i'm dead”), the follow up “batcat” finds the band unleashing some serious riffage, and some cool and strange guitar filigree. it's a one part song (maybe two) but boy is it a good part, and it gets looped and twisted, the band building and building, much like the more metal godspeed they always seemed to be. epic and crunchy and heavy and so good we probably wouldn't mind if the song was twice (or three times, or four times...) as along.
the next few tracks find the band mellowing back out a bit, letting their songs sprawl and spread out organically, a dreamy, laid back post rock, with no particular place to go, and with mogwai it's all about the journey, not the destination anyway.
“the sun smells too loud” is a definite twist on the mogwai formula, lots of synths and keyboards, and a slow build, slow burn, that gets bigger and louder, without necessarily getting heavier. the main hook, the guitar figure repeated again and again will stick in your head like crazy, the perfect substitute for vocals, if you were even missing them. “i love you, i'm going to blow up your school” is classic mogwai, again harkening back toy young team, all loping strum and shuffling rhythms, glistening melodies, lots of texture and ambience, until about the last minute when the band erupts into a super intense psychedelic freakout, still grounded by the melancholy melody that runs through the whole song. there's plenty more drifting and meandering dreamily before closer “the precipice”, which begins soft and breathless, before morphing into something a bit more ominous, the guitars a tad more crunchy, and finally a killer two minute outro, that features gorgeous spidery guitar lines, pounding drums, and gorgeous tangled minor key melodies.
you want young team? probably best to just get over it. go listen to young team. heck we might just go listen to young team again. but really, at this point we're way more interested in seeing where the sounds of mogwai take us.
there are two versions of the cd, one is the regular edition, the other, while they last, is slightly more expensive and comes with a dvd, which features the creepy and haunting video for “batcat”, a cool animated fan made video for the same song, and a short, very arty, and quite beautiful documentary about the band.
mogwai - the hawk is howling: emotive instrumentalists mogwai return after a two-year sojourn from the studio with their sixth album. while the glaswegian post-rock outfit comprises five members, their sharp musical vision and love of synths render them far more than their sum of parts.
this album brings them back to their fine and familiar territory of melancholy musical landscapes, which show how a sonic picture can tell a thousand words. stand-out tracks such as danphe and the brain display all the heart-wrenching beauty that fans have grown accustomed to, but the uncharacteristically pop-infused the sun smells too loud will keep them on their toes. rating 7/10. (review by lisa williams)
review from liverpool echo, 19th sept 2008|
a rare bird this, an entirely instrumental album that is both cool and evocative.
varying moods and atmospheres take this away from any comparison with those strange beasts, the vacuous instrument chill-out albums, with their inane noodling up and down scales for no particular reason.
this is very different, synaesthesic and intense, with flavours or king crimson, magma and caravan and even a taste of the arch drude, julian cope, all underpinned with their own unique spirit and sound. howl on mogwai, this is good stuff.
'unedited' (spoof?) pitchfork review (30th august 2008)|
mogwai: the hawk is howling (matador/wall of sound) rating 4.9
i’m jim morrison, i’m dead
it’s telling that the glaswegians in mogwai titled this, the first track
from the band’s new lp the hawk is howling, after poet and filmmaker james
there is a yearning and loneliness in the track, which builds slowly and
deliberately (albeit with more than an obvious nod in its introduction
toward the cure’s 1980 single “a forest”; this is most notable at 00:34,
00:51, 1:17 and 1:34 into the piece). it seems a sure bet that this
generally happy-go-lucky scottish combo had to engage some serious soul
searching in order to come up with a title for the track that reflected the
heaviness and overall mood they were attempting to put forth. and, yes, they
the problem is, of course, that mogwai, while attempting to parlay an
admiration of the most significant american artist of the 20th century into
a values-based cauldron of shared association, has succeeded in only playing
dress-up. further, it’s exceedingly culturally harmful to left-handedly
besmirch the legacy of persons such as morrison. when one speaks his name or
thoughtfully considers him, the effect is one of a total reaction. that is,
jim morrison is a complete and fully realized concept. were someone to come
across this track who is, perhaps because lacking in years, education and
(admittedly) taste, not accustomed to or fully informed of morrison’s
legacy, then the word-association experienced by said person is one wherein
mogwai enters the consciousness before, or instead of, images of morrison
it’s a clever attempt at piggybacking which, were it not for the
gatekeepers of the flow of information, has all the potential of a
subversive political campaign but, like all campaigns of such a nature, is
ultimately a case of the emperor wearing no clothes. this is a clever game
to play by this group of roustabouts who hail from a land that never had an
emperor in the first place. (note: while scotland had no emperor it enjoyed
several centuries of rule by kings and queens, the most recent of which was
james vi, who acceded to the throne in 1567 — a mere 400 years before james
douglas morrison (aka “jim morrison”) released a pair of best selling lps
(the doors and strange days) with his own short-lived pop combo.)
all of which is to say: look mogwai, we accept that you love america
and her cultural heroes (a passion of yours that we have diligently noted
over the years, beginning with the fact that your band name was chosen from
what is probably our most beloved children’s film, the joe dante/steven
spielberg epic from 1984, gremlins). but it is intolerable what you have
done with this track. it’s admirable that you have dedicated your adult
lives to musically exploring the metaphysical proposition of the meaning of
life (as evidenced by the slow-paced and, honestly, creepy and navel-gazing
music showcased here), but it’s another thing entirely to attempt to behead
the memory of a people’s most galvanizing artist and to place your personal
apprehensions within his skin. this activity is more than the aforementioned
window dressing: it is barbaric.
“this music is so good, i want to piss in its mouth.”
really, that’s what it’s all about. you can bop us over our heads with
your rolled-up mfa, or debate whether a “song” is really a “song” if there
isn’t any “singing” involved. but sometimes you find a five-second passage
of music that’s so damned good, you want to turn it into a person, pry that
person’s jaws open, and take a nice, long piss into its mouth out of love.
what makes mogwai such a powerhouse is that it can take those five seconds
and stretch them out for however long it pleases. to keep pissing for that
long, you need to drink a lot of watery domestic. but it’s worth it.
“batcat” clocks in at a modest 5:25, abbreviated by mogwai standards.
like a drunken, awkward sexual exploit in the back of weekend dad’s corolla,
it packs a lot of rage and misery into those five minutes. the guitar stings
and squawks like some sort of poisonous bird. the drums pound as though
they’re beating someone. the bass is both monolithic and serpentine, like an
ancient grecian pyramid slithering through an exurban daffodil garden. even
by workout standards, these workouts are pretty intense. the beat stops. the
bass rumbles. we take a quick break for some kind of sports drink, and then
it’s back into the deeply erotic fray. this music squishes traitors like
millipedes. then it pisses in their little mouths, so that the circle of
piss can continue.
sometimes it sounds like van halen. sometimes it sounds like jazz or
rhys chatham or branca. actually, it sounds like all of those things at
once, recorded onto a cassette tape that’s been dropped in a toilet, dragged
around by a motorcycle, set on fire, and taught a lesson in “rock dynamics”
by a college sophomore who never takes off his shirt because he has
when i was a kid, my brother and i had a boom box with high-speed
tape-to-tape dubbing. the idea was that you could make a quick copy of a
tape at twice the speed if both of the tapes went really fast. we would get
one of those adapters that allowed you to play your cd player through the
tape deck in your car, stick it in the boom box, and record cd’s onto a tape
that was running at double speed. the resulting tape of the cd would be
really slow — that’s what someone must have done to make the tape mentioned
really, words don’t do this shit justice. you can talk about music all
you want, but i think it’s because you’re a fucking loser who doesn’t have
what it takes to find a really good piece of music and piss in its mouth.
“batcat” will put you in your place.
danphe and the brain
the likelihood of serious dental work increases when you blow off (or,
in the indie world, can’t afford) yearly cleanings. there is talk of
advances in modern dental practices — lasers, space age polymers, whatever —
but at the end of the day, the process and end result are the same: you get
a cavity and the dentist fills it.
dental schools offer cheap work, but everyone with half a brain knows
that the risk of some hideous fuckup increases exponentially with such
visits. medical tourism, too, is a shady alternate option — go to thailand,
this one cabbie always tells me, and get cheap bridgework and hookers. two
most everyone i know chooses to stay close to home, endure the pain, and
get the shit over with. see, that’s the thing — pain. it’s never about the
craftsmanship behind the work, which, if you think about it, is pretty
mind-boggling. i mean, these tiny spots of enamel are rotted out, and your
dentist, bless him, gets in there with a spinning diamond-tipped drill and
doesn’t fuck you up. all that precision is lost in the vicodin aftermath.
yet, in the event of a body being identified by dental records, the
process is about particulars. plastic filling compounds will signify a more
modern era than gold, you know?
so the bleeps and bloops that festoon “danphe and the brain” serve to
pull me away from mogwai’s prescription craftsmanship. those little skitters
sprinkled atop the majestic post-whatever instru-guitar drone would have
made me think my cd was skipping if this was five years ago. (okay, okay, if
it was last monday, and my friends and i were sitting on my smoky allston
back porch listening to a copy of the song, followed by some of neil
hamburger’s prank phone calls and roadsteamer’s newest — y’know,
theoretically.) they draw attention away from the song itself, which would
be just fine (say that as morosely as you can: just fine) without the
distraction in the first place. it’s like they make me wonder if this
filling is a temp that’s gonna fall out and be replaced with whatever future
hip signifiers the next time there’s a checkup.
michael t. fournier
mogwai wisely plays to their strengths on the pensively evocative “local
authority.” vibrato guitar sets sail upon a languid shoal of electric piano
and brushed drums, painting a picture in the listener’s mind as vivid and
stark as any ecm album cover from the mid-seventies. eschewing the
cataclysmic blasts favored by mono, who would have gone nuclear three
minutes in, mogwai doggedly maintains the supple flow, gently piling upon
simple melodies, creating a heaving lattice of sadness and regret. a searing
fripp-like strain lurking just beneath the water’s edge threatens to erupt,
but it remains held in check, like a monster from childhood teasing from the
ebbing darkness of memory. mogwai proves yet again that minimalism need not
be chained to the rock of simplicity. (maserati, take note.)
despite its austere and understated trappings, “local authority” hints
at a profound complexity by constructing a seemingly placid environment that
nonetheless compels listeners to confront their demons. this is a dark cool
place unknown. we float upon the reeds, a hand skimming the water, our minds
ruing our absolute insignificance. with a sputtering torch and sheer will,
mogwai deftly guides us through this murky place. at journey’s end, we are
the sun smells too loud
then we come to “the sun smells too loud.” allow me to write that again,
more slowly, with plenty of space between the words.
“the sun smells too loud.”
does mogwai try to annoy me? are they making a concerted effort to get
on my nerves? if it’s not the world’s longest running track record for
god-awful cover art (sorry, assuredly huge name in the field), it’s song
handles like this. just when i thought the septic tank had run dry with the
likes of “glasgow mega-snake” and “folk death 95” from 2006’s mr. beast (and
don’t get me started on that album title, oy vey!), the post-rock poets
pinch out this turd.
onto the tune itself … it is fantastic! beginning with the lifted intro
— the synth beat to the 1981 new wave hit “kids in america” by kim wilde —
the song quickly sways into an almost gentle circular pattern with a
speaking guitar line that has generous amounts of verlaine-ish sheen. there
is no quiet/loud/quiet dynamic to speak of, and i think it no accident that
this particular track lays at the middle of the album. what we have here is
the gyroscopic center, twirling with confidence, never reaching beyond its
grasp, and keeping all in its orbit precisely in place.
when deconstructing the piece and paying close attention to the spacing,
the layers, and the notes, one can’t help but agree with all the
long-running rumors, gossip, and innuendo that certain members of mogwai, if
not all, are affiliated with the occult and/or worship satan directly. and i
don’t mean that silly american midwest teenage goth kind of stuff. we’re
talking the ancient european creepiness that can only be found in the likes
like any brainwashing organization worth its salt, mogwai has employed
“love bombing.” they coat the intended victim — i mean, listener — with
waves of glorious adoration to weaken him, leaving him defenseless and
accessible to any and all manner of sick intentions. then, bamn!, before you
know it, you’re on the street earning money for the kings any way you can.
so there you have it: “the sun smells too loud” is a pleasant, yet not
revolutionary addition to the mogwai cannon. and i didn’t even mention how
horribly racist the lyrics are.
by the time the hawk is howling finally meanders on to track six, the
listener is made to feel like a victimized alter boy suffering under the
eager, moistened hands of a serial pedophile priest: “oh wonderful. this
again?” once more, mogwai doesn’t miss a trick, since, it would seem, they
only have one: squeezing every last drop out of long, laboriously tortured
under-chords and notes even codeine was wise enough to avoid.
“king’s meadow” (a dev hynes cover, by the way) is yet another reliably
slow, trudging and labored patience-tester; in other words, this scottish
band’s stock and trade. it’s amazing, however, the lengths mogwai will go to
bore the living shit out of you. for instance, nine minutes of this
14-minute song is the sound of a feather duster being brushed across a
formica table ... slowly. oh yes, that sound in the lower register is a
lifelike 12” dildo being hit against a snare. genius, to be sure.
but did this charisma-killing track really warrant the royal clusterfuck of
interloping guest musicians and soundboard gimmicks? is “king’s meadow” any
better with conor oberst on the lute-o-phone, ryan adams molesting a
theremin, or that one chick from tilly and the wall tapping-dancing morse
code on the hood of an aston martin vanquish? and seriously, comedian
michael ian black (!) on dog whistle??? i know these mogwai scamps enjoy
wasting precious studio time and stacks of matador’s money, but c’mon! this
is the kind of decadence even kevin shields would find shameful.
ultimately, “king’s meadow”, like most mogwai songs, is best listened to
while sleeping, with the volume turned all the way down, and the stereo as
far away from you as humanly possible — perhaps in the back of a flatbed
pick-up truck speeding west into the night (as long as you’re safely in the
i love you, i’m going to blow up your school
the seventh track, “i love you, i’m going to blow up your school” makes
two promises. the first is that mogwai has fallen deeply in love with you.
the second is that it will prove this love by destroying your school.
the first promise is trite — we’ve all heard, “i love you,” any number
of times. but only my girlfriend has heard those words combined with a
pledge to bomb a high school full of guidance counselors hell-bent on
convincing their students that it’s somehow taboo to date a 38-year-old man.
like all mogwai tracks, the song has no lyrics to express the exquisite
sorrow of forbidden love, but the sentiment is clear. through its
seven-and-a-half minute length, a slow dirge of persecution — a love
oppressed by society’s cruel overlords — gives way to an explosive triumph —
the victory of a man who was once a target of derision by ageist tormentors.
this is storytelling. and one could not find a story of this gravity outside
the bloodstained pages of my personal notebook (which i carry with me at all
times). thus, i decided to overlook the song’s myriad flaws and mark this as
there are two reasons why i like this song.
the first reason grows straight out of a worsening problem in the music
with which we are assaulted with on a daily basis. (i should note here that
i will simply use the term “music” in this review … no time for useless
genre struggles.) plagiarism is the largest, slowest moving fish in a tiny
critical barrel. even so, the mileage will never top out for this venerable
punching bag. ripping off other artists can be conflicting — i have no bones
about it if the artist does something catchy or well written with the source
material. but i get pissed off when the offending party appears to boast a
presumptuousness of delusional, wholly inaccurate ingenuity. as i type these
words, there are plenty of these assholes wasting our air.
not only have mogwai ripped off no one but themselves, but they’ve
managed to once again adjust the formula one-eighth of a centimeter in the
right direction so that the hawk is howling could elicit the tiniest bit of
melancholy from an asshole’s asshole. if you’ve had a very, very fucking bad
afternoon — nerves worn totally raw, confusion, regret, stress, and all of
that crap — it’s the perfect alternative to a real emotional holocaust,
like, say, tim hardin’s “it’ll never happen again.”
so while i can veil the first reason i like this song in the pleasure
derived from not hearing another group of disrespectful fucknuts in their
early-20’s unknowingly raping the worth out of someone else’s previous
brilliance (or mediocrity) and calling it their own, the truth lies
“scotland’s shame” will save lives.
how? well, because the song is a mogwai 101 concoction —devoid of
vocals, building on accomplished, minor-key retread repetition until the
volume and density reach one of the band’s trademark stopping points between
“not-too-much-going-on” and “balls-out-bulldozing-almost-metal.” thus, the
pleasantly inoffensive, just-sad-enough simplicity of the song will never
encourage an unstable nut job to grab the nearest high-powered rifle and
scale a water tower … like an copy of tim hardin 2 might.
and so, we come to the second reason i like this song, for which i’ve
decided employ a touch of my soon-to-be-murmured-about mogwai fan fiction!
so, what’s up with the title of the album, the hawk is howling? is this the
next instance of a band strapping a saddle onto the dead horse (pun
intended!) of zoological/biological source material for the creative
process? guess again, assholes! for that easy fix, you’ll have to wait two
minutes for kristen schaal to form a band (or walk into any local club
don’t get me wrong. i am a fervent animal lover, and i regard nature as
something useful for certain forms of creativity. but for fuck’s sake, can
we give the shit a goddamned rest when it comes to music? that’s exactly
what the members of mogwai were thinking when they cooked up the concept
behind these four words! momentarily forgetting that they themselves are
named after a fake animal, the scots devised a subtly satirical attack upon
this insufferably irritating trend.
when compared to a grackle or a female cardinal, a hawk might be
considered dignified and beautiful. but when placed among its predatory
contemporaries, this raptor becomes the wal-mart of order falconiformes. one
doesn’t have to look far to witness the opportunistic and lazy practices of
a red-tailed hawk as it circles above a city park or a food not bombs co-op.
go back to the country!
mogwai have devalued the faux-naturalist naming process by utilizing
what is essentially a glorified crow. on top of that, they have punished the
animal and further deconstructed the trend by suggesting an unnatural and
demeaning sound. hawks don’t howl! you know what howls? dirty feral dogs,
diamanda galas, cats on the way to the vet, bigfoot and most whores.
we can only hope that mogwai’s pointed spoof discourages a few
“creative” types from naming a band, song or album title after something
that shits outdoors.
thank you space expert
the penultimate track, “thank you space expert,” begs the question:
thanks for what? precise coordinates to the listless nebula?
in this seven-and-a-half minute collect call from glasgow, you can
practically hear mogwai absently strike their guitars, glockenspiels and
who-diddly-dang-bangles with one hand, while gathering coats and galoshes
for the hard slog home with the other. it is this lack of focus and exigency
that constrains what could have been another triumph for the lads. instead,
“thank you space expert” casts the listener adrift in an aimless orbit,
leaving him anticipating a thunderous clang that never comes.
that’s a shame. because three minutes in, had mogwai brought the noise,
i would have high-fived everyone in the room and phoned my father for the
first time in six years. alas, the band squanders the opportunity for sturm
und drang grandeur, opting for a threadbare melody that my asthmatic niece
could have conceived on recorder (and she’s missing an index finger!) “thank
you space expert” probably should have spent more time in the practice space
asserting itself — demanding a tempo shift, electric saw solo, or something
else to distinguish it in the musical cosmos. because in space, everyone can
hear you yawn.
life is a highway, and mogwai will ride you all night long.
the journey, though, is one that some of us may find all too familiar.
in their quest to show us the epic, the immortal and the undeniably
timeless, they show us only the death already pulling at their macerated,
scrawny frames, their vision failing, testicles sagging in underwear washed
a few too many times, a thin feculent dribble sliding down their quavering
assflesh — a lifetime spent in pursuit of mediocrity.
as the guitars curlicue around the pounding of mannish tom-toms like the
garland of graying pubic hair around your uncle’s boner, mogwai offer you a
lollipop and the promise of videogames, the ghost of slint dulling your
senses into a glassy-eyed hypnosis, until you realize that mogwai are
fucking you, fucking you, fucking you. you look behind you, and there they
are, laughing and pushing, delighting in ravaging your hitherto exit-only
shitpipe with what you realize is essentially just the cliff’s notes to an
ash ra tempel track, only without the transcendence, the magic, or even the
ability to distract you from the dull thud, thud, thud, that is steadily
building, until you yawn and mention to said uncle, “who the fuck listens to
‘foreplay’ without ‘long time’? can i go home now? i want to go play some
and in that moment, their lusty conquest loses its drive, and it’s just
another joyless hump on a friday night with mogwai desperately pushing its
fading erection, hoping you won’t notice it’s got all the consistency of
rotting tapioca, until they just decide to pull their pants up and go home,
wiping their spent privates sheepishly and grumbling, “let’s not tell
anybody about this, okay?”
the track is called “the precipice.” don’t forget to take a running