Post-rock pioneers mellow

Rave Tapes” is the eighth studio album by Scottish band Mogwai, a group that heavily influenced the development of post-rock, a genre of instrumental music featuring long, slow development of repeated material using typical rock instrumentation. You’ve probably heard this music before through bands like Explosions in the Sky, who wrote the soundtrack to the “Friday Night Lights” movie and television show. Due to its use in these contexts post-rock is often viewed as background music, and despite having composed a few movie scores, Mogwai is a band that wants to avoid categorization.

“Rave Tapes” sees Mogwai using new sounds and techniques to try and keep their sound fresh and to avoid many of the negative connotations that accompany a post-rock label. The album opens with “Heard About You Last Night”, which features a delayed marimba track that blends into traditional instrumentation, adding some depth and texture to an otherwise standard instrumental rock piece. Synthesized keyboards permeate the album, propelling tracks like “Simon Ferocious” and “Remurdered”, and only really detracting from the track “Deesh” where they just sound dated and overly dramatic.

The worst of these additions is in “Repelish,” where we are subjected to the band playing around a spoken-word recording discussing the subliminal messaging hidden in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The timbre of the speaker’s voice is fairly dull, and the band accommodates predictably by getting quieter when he speaks and rising again in his pauses. “Blues Hour” is the only other track to include vocals on this album, but this time with great success. Opening with warm acoustic piano, the track has a slow, steady build that ends in a harmonized vocal melody, making it one of the standout tracks on the album.

Unfortunately, many of these tracks end up being fairly unmemorable despite the expanded instrumentation and experimentation. Some start to stick after a few listens, but without catchy riffs and melodies the only thing you will remember about a song like “Deesh” is that it lasted five minutes.

It seems like Mogwai is heading in a more mellow, reserved direction, but their song structure is stuck in their loud, post-rock past. “Remurdered” builds and builds and then just ends without giving us the satisfaction of crashing cymbals that it’s spent six minutes working towards. At least half of the songs on this album get stuck building into nothing, and it makes me wonder if Mogwai think they can temper their sound by simply cutting off all the loud, gratifying sections at the end of their songs.

Interestingly enough, the best track on this LP might be “Hexon Bogon” which clocks in at just over two-and-a-half minutes. Half the length of every other song on the album, this track is pure rock and roll: loud drums, heavy guitars and a heavier groove. On an album that finds Mogwai admirably experimenting with their softer side, they find the most success in their louder tracks, and one can only hope they strike a better balance on their next record.

3 stars out of 5.

DOWNLOAD NOW: “Hexon Bogon”