When progression and development take the place of repeated song structures and throbbing guitars are put to use in texture and scope instead of hooks and choruses, you have ‘post-rock’. It’s about as pretentious a genre as it sounds, so after becoming labelled as one of its pioneers, Mogwai have tried to defy its definition. Nonetheless, it’s possible to describe at-least a few of those qualities in Mogwai’s 1997 debut Young Team that were foundational to the genre. For example quiet, brooding guitar and piano melodies over soft and sparsely placed beats that would build and build to dynamic heights, becoming swallowed in a thick wash of distortion. Sometimes the crescendos expressed rage, while others were uplifting, but neither was restrained in melodrama. From the mid-2000s bands like 65daysofstatic broadened the genre until the utility of the term was diminished, yet at the same time there was this slew of ‘generic post-rock’ acts. As the formula for immensity and atmosphere became routine, the impressions lost their force. However, in the last few years some of those original instrumental groups have left behind the central tenants of post-rock, and taken their ideas elsewhere. 65daysofstatic for one, returned to their roots last year to bring their odd time signatures to more conventional dance music. With most tracks barely passing the 5 minute mark and the substitution of pianos for synthesisers, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is similarly divergent. Mixed in with some solid vintage Mogwai, there are good things for listeners both new and old.
Some of these changes may make original fans uneasy. Its first single, ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ is an atrocity on first listen. Its verse-chorus-verse structure, repetitive vocals and punchy beat comes across as a desperate drive to grab a wider audience. Similarly, ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’’s opening synth sounds disgracefully like one in ‘Mr. Brightside’. However, even when breaking out of post-rock, Mogwai still finds a way to come into its own. Overall, the album just sounds more digital, but this has brought new scope for creating texture and ambience. Its vocals are processed to the point where they become indiscernible, and subtle static ambient screeches and glitches leave layers left to explore with each listen. The rough and brittle distortion through ‘Rano Pano’ shows unprecedented attention to detail in the treble, creating the cold and harsh sound that gives the guitars their menace. However, there are tracks left untouched by this treatment. ‘How to Be a Werewolf’ has that warm and indistinct bass which harks back to the Young Team era. Despite being overtly major, it manages to be uplifting yet not sickeningly sweet. There’s a patient three minutes build before it makes its powerful crescendo, while contrasting tracks like ‘San Pedro’ jump the gun and enter head on. Both are sure favourites, but one can’t help but feel that where they restrain themselves, the pay-off is far more rewarding. In all, it’s this kind of diversity in approach that make it hard to pin down the album’s sound. However, on any approach, no track is filler, and if you’ve been unable to get into instrumental rock before, then now is a better time than ever.