Although hardcore fans would tend to disagree, most people possessing a passing familiarity with Mogwai would maintain that Mogwai has spent nearly two decades attempting to recapture the magic of a classic debut. Ever since 1993’s genre-defining Young Team, Mogwai has seen their sound evolve without releasing a new record that feels as exciting or novel as their first. By being both prolific and integral to the post-rock genre (an admittedly troublesome term at this point), every Mogwai release cannot help but be reconciled with their past output. The narrative around this release suggests that this is Mogwai’s “darker” record, which the album reflects for the most part. At only ten songs it’s a tightly wound record with few instances that deviate from grim seriousness. While displaying the deftness of technique and smoothness that comes with two decades of experience, the moodiness at times makes the album feel plodding.
Immediately at the beginning of the album’s second song, “Simon Ferocious,” it’s clear that Rave Tapes will see Mogwai relying on an electronic sound more than ever. It’s an elegant, epic song with predictably bewitching guitar work. The album’s single, “Remurdered,” follows, and it starts off pretty ambient then breaks into a synth-laden sound that wouldn’t feel terribly out of place on Daft Punk’s Tron soundtrack (for good or bad; in fact, Daft Punk’s influence seems to manifest a few times on this record, especially towards the end on “The Lord is Out of Control” where the vocoder takes center stage). “Repelish” earns props for its strange, inspired structure, using critical narration about “Stairway to Heaven” around a flurry of guitars. It’s an interesting idea that, though executed skillfully, feels very out of place on a record that mostly eschews vocals. Even if there are some slip-ups on the front half of the record, Mogwai will win you over with its hypnotic details in the second half. It’s a testament to the band’s skill that often a subtle wrinkle becomes the star of the song, such as on “Blues Hour” where soft, melancholy guitar strumming lifts the song and gives it life. “No Medicine for Regret” has a melody that sounds like its coming from some sort of organ. It sounds hollow and cinematic and gives the song a beautiful level of intensity.
All ten songs are jam-packed with intriguing sounds and effortlessly flow into myriad directions. There are an array of textures on Rave Tapes, and just about every song brings something to the table. “Master Card” has one of the most accessible, fun guitar hooks on here. “Hexon Bogon” is wonderfully atmospheric. “Deesh” gives us some pulsating synth that’s a completely fresh element for this band and contributes to its overall proggier sound. The fact that these sonic wrinkles add to the songs rather than distract show a commendable deftness of touch. While it isn’t perfect, Rave Tapes’ power lies in its ability to reveal itself a little more after each listen, unfurling its various intricacies and allowing these songs to be interpreted in a dozen different ways.