Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Rock Action Records, 2011)

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.

Oli Frost

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Single Reviews October 2010

The Quails – ‘Fever’ [Like The Sound, 2010]

It’s hard to know precisely which part of this single The Quails expect us to be impressed by. The brief verses plucked woven of inanity itself? The lazy guitar chops in the chorus, or the forgettable melody they carry along like a sack of rocks? Perhaps, given that the groups are fresh out of college, we are supposed to marvel at gravel-throated frontman Dan Steer’s hard rock stylings, coming across, as they do, like Audioslave crooner Chris Cornell boring himself to death? Surely it can’t be the utterly out of place guitar workout that the band have deemed excuse enough not to actually write any new music after the second chorus. Having already opened (note: not supported) for Muse, The Kooks, and Newton Faulkner, it’s clear that discretion is not part of The Quails’ arsenal; given that they clearly function according to a model of leather-bound rock stardom that was already defunct in the 80’s, their best hope is surely to hope that they get more gigs on Radio 2, where Janice Long “has confirmed that she is loving the Quails album.” A song as simplistic and confused as that sentence is depressing and grammatically incoherent.

Sam Goff

Pulled Apart By Horses – ‘Yeah Buddy’ [Transgressive, 2010]

The most depressing thing about this not-quite-hardcore dirge is that the band has clearly approached its composition in a spirit of efficient calculation: the ‘funky’ syncopated verse must be the makeweight in convincing the listener to excuse the moist and directionless warbling of the painfully straight chorus; the totally edgy use of two vocalists, neither of whom can scream with sufficient chutzpah, is presumably enough to make up for the cheap Americanisms of the lyrics (“Yeah, buddy! You got one heck of a nerve!”) What a vulgar display of musical weakness from a band who seem to be marketed as some art-rock party piece, hoping that none of their flaws will become too apparent if they are all on display yet carefully aligned. Furthermore, this reviewer is aghast at the climax, with its doubly-hollered refrain of “Ring out the bells!”, which is such a blatant and limp-wristed plagiarism of The Blood BrothersFucking’s Greatest Hits that the question has to be posed: why would you make your influences so obvious when you have neither the guile nor the inclination to attempt to match them, let alone evolve from them?

Sam Goff

Neon Indian – ‘Psychic Chasms’ [Lefse Records, 2010]

Deliberately derivative, Neon Indian blends the ethereal quality of Shoegaze into the warm analogue feel of 80’s synth-pop to produce a mix that is lush to its very core. Unfortunately, ‘Terminally Chill’ isn’t quite laid back enough for it to compete with the other tracks on Psychic Chasms but it still sports the lo-fi production and dreamy synths that create that very distinctive sound. Beneath the layers of synthesisers, the vocals are lyrically indiscernible and heavily processed (something reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine) but this really helps the track find a richer tone, without shifting undue attention to its singer. Possibly the most ad-hoc genre ever, the Chillwave “movement” of last summer which arose to label acts like Neon Indian, Washed Out or Memory Tapes deserves more attention than it will get.

Oli Frost

Panda Bear – ‘Tomboy’/’Slow Motion’ [Paw Tracks, 2010]

After a heavy three years, Panda Bear (AKA Noah Lennox of Animal Collective) returns with this super limited 7″, each track taken from the future LP Tomboy. A lot of the sounds on both tracks are down to Noah utilising his sampling machines further. Previously these had been reserved mostly for obscure sounds to add a psychedelic effect, but here it appears they have been used to piece together drum patterns in a more inventive way. As a result the beats provide a much more fundamental part of the songs compared to previous works such as ‘Comfy In Nautica’, where the percussion sat much lower in the mix.

The weird effects are still present though, but are used in short bursts, giving a much more stripped down feel to the record. As a result this single feels a lot less euphoric than some of Noah’s other works, but I think this makes the tracks feel more like songs rather than pieces of a whole experience, ideal for a single.

The lyrics are still as undistinguishable as ever; layers of reverb-drenched vocal on both tracks blend harmoniously together and follow a cascading melodic pattern. Beautiful as this is, his heart-felt groans (e.g. ‘Song For Ariel’) seem to be absent here, and again this further withdraws from the ecstatic feelings. Without a motive that’s easy to relate to, the spotlight is focused more towards the pure sounds coming from this record. The crownpiece in this sense is the 3/4 drum sample of ‘Slow Motion’, kick drums and hand claps that verge on the brink of Hip Hop, a feeling particularly re-inforced as a Dr. Dre chord sequence chimes in. However good these drum beats are though, for both tracks they continue relentlessly throughout without any additional layering or sparse breakdowns, and I get the feeling that this lack of progression in the music might grow tiresome after a dozen plays. But in the short term, the experience when hearing these songs is a positive one, and you may even find your shoulders popping with the rhythm.

If you’re lucky enough to find a copy of this floating around be sure to grab it, it’s beautiful under a needle.

Roger Stabbins