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Mogwai:: Mr. Beast (Album Review)

From the very first pompous, crashing piano chords and stern, slow-marching drums of ‘Auto Rock’, it’s abundantly clear that ‘Mr. Beast’, Mogwai’s fifth album proper, is going to be something very special indeed. It’s a grandiose fanfare, heralding an album brim full of self-confidence and attitude, a culmination of all that Mogwai have done in the past ten years of their existence.

‘Auto Rock’ crashes into ‘Glasgow Mega Snake’, a song that builds with a galloping exuberance, luxuriantly obese guitar chords crashing around like a drunken Medieval monarch going for the last stuffed thrush at a banquet. As the live sets at the ICA earlier this year hinted, ‘Mr. Beast’ is Mogwai’s most accessible album to date, but they aren’t creeping upon the listener gradually, instead making it abundantly clear that all they’ve really done is fine tune their trademark dynamics, deft adjustments that aren’t concessions to the mainstream as much as sneaky hooks to lure the unsuspecting listener into the maelstrom.

Take ‘Acid Food’, for instance. A respite from the opening salvo of ‘…Mega Snake’ and ‘Auto Rock’, it drifts breezily by on metronome drums, languid pedal steel, glockenspiel and Stuart Braithwaite’s hazy and modulated vocals. Pull up a chair, say Mogwai, crack open the Sunday papers and digest the roast. ‘Friend Of The Night’, meanwhile, is a gorgeous, piano led bit of drawing room histrionics, and ‘I Chose Horses’ is slow and meditative.

But then the ante is upped once more for ‘Travel Is Dangerous’. Where Mogwai generally use vocals as a monotone atop their more minimal, quieter moments, ‘Travel Is Dangerous’ is the closest they’ve come to an anthem, Stuart singing lustily over a chorus wreathed in poignant tumult that, to me, might be perfect as a soundtrack to old Eastern Bloc propaganda reels.

Any die hard Mogwai fan lamenting a dearth of their start/stop smack-you-round-the-noggin desecrations of noise would do well to note that the mother of all behemoths ‘My Father, My King’ never actually appeared on a Mogwai album. And besides, ghoulish things come to those who wait. ‘Folk Death ’95’ is as taught and vicious as anything Mogwai have recorded, but loaded with the fresh emotive punch that pervades ‘Mr Beast’ as a whole. And then for the dramatic conclusion of ‘We’re No Here’, Mogwai really let themselves go, all theatrical atmospherics of thunder, lightning, driving rain and some mighty commander exhorting his doomed adherents to a final heroic act of defiance. Ten years after they first assaulted us, Mogwai remain as vital as ever. (Luke Turner via playl.com)