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Mogwai Leaves Listeners Hanging on New Sub Pop EP

Posted by September 18th, 2011 No Comments »

Mogwai – Earth Division EP
Sub Pop Records
By Bryce Shoemaker

With their signing to Sub Pop and subsequent release of this year’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, it is clear that Mogwai is in a bit of a transition period.

“Un-Mogwai-like” has become the term du jour ascribed by critics to the recent output of the band, highlighting the fact that, even after all these years, something exciting is still happening here.

Yet, their second offering for the local mega-indie, Earth Division EP (released on September 13) provides a mixed-results supplement to the succinct and refreshing explorations found on the full-length label debut. Where Hardcore…’s eclectic collection of tracks display a veteran band pushing its homeostatic boundaries while having fun with the creative process, Earth Division comes off like a collection of song sketches that were never fully realized – remnants of the transitional process that didn’t make the cut for the final album, but were good enough to be on an EP.

“Get to France” opens the EP with its melodramatic, Yann Tiersen-esque piano, glockenspiel and strings interplay. While this sound is certainly unique to Mogwai’s repertoire, it is most definitely cliché to anyone familiar with French cinema. Imagine a scene in which a young lover daydreams out the window of a train as it glides through the European countryside. The pastoral vistas soon morph into Montmartre and we are treated to whimsical scenes of mimes, kids running with balloons, birds flying away from a fountain, the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and the face of the lover’s object of affection. These visions repeat over and over, building in uncertain romantic tension until the train arrives at a Parisian station and the scene ends. This song would work perfectly in such a scenario, just as so many other songs of similar ilk have before it.  It’s a decent opener, short in length, and properly sets the stage for whatever else the band has to serve up, but this may prove to be a buildup to nowhere for many listeners.

“Hound of Winter” drips with sentimentality as an acoustic guitar plucks a subdued chord progression reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” while a piano twinkles in the distance and strings swell in and out between the movements of the arrangement. Fans of Stuart Braithwaite’s meek, soft-spoken warble will appreciate the vocal on this track, as it will undoubtedly take many people back to a familiar territory previously explored on 1999’s “Cody” from Come on Die Young.

Arguably the strongest track offered up, it is unfortunately followed by the EP’s weakest track, “Drunk and Crazy.” Sticking true to its name, track three sounds like a late night experiment with sound samples, distortion, a laptop and many many beers. A mélange of sounds distort to create a thick cloud of static, only to be cut short of reaching its apex by an awkwardly placed clean and clear string piece. The recording quality of the strings eventually develops its own grit and white noise is restored to the mix, but the ejaculatory moment of Mogwai-like payoff one might be expecting never arrives, and the song simply ends in an anticlimactic manner.

The final track “Does This Always Happen?” opens with a finger-picked guitar line that loops throughout the song’s near-five minute entirety, only to be slightly augmented at one point to provide a different flavor to its repetitious nature. Again, we have twinkly piano and sweeping strings that move in and around the melody established by the guitar, and, again, nothing really happens throughout the song. To answer the question posed by the track’s title, no, no this does not always happen, and this is very un-Mogwai-like to leave the listener hanging like this.

This EP is not going to blow many minds with its half-thought experimentation, nor will it be a good reference for anyone enthused by
the promise of new sonic realms that Hardcore Will Never Die… hints at. Instead, this EP provides a collection of tracks that display
the shoulder shrug worthy “eh, these are decent” songs that a band creates (and, for some reason, decides to hold onto) during a process of change.

Enjoy the songs for what they are, then forget them in your media player while you await the next full-length.  – (6.5/10)

No stranger to compelling, guitar-driven instrumental Indie rock, Bryce Shoemaker is a local musician who’s played in such excellent bands as Bronze Fawn. He also once listened to all 18 of Rush’s original studio albums and one covers EP from beginning to end and then wrote about it.

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