Stuart Braithwaite – guitar, vocals
Dominic Aitchison – bass, guitar
Martin Bulloch – drums
John Cummings – guitar
Barry Burns – guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals
Mogwai – Rave Tapes
1. Heard About You Last Night
2. Simon Ferocious
4. Hexon Bogon
6. Master Card
8. Blues Hour
9. No Medicine for Regret
10. The Lord is Out of Control
Running time: 49:03
Upon conducting research for this album it came to my attention that it's been seventeen years since Mogwai released its debut album. Seventeen years. Mogwai Young Team was pretty much the coolest thing going back in 1997. That was a band with an idea, a vision, and a plan of how to bring their vision to the public eye. Fast forward to 2014. We are at studio album number eight, but that doesn't include the count the dozen or so Eps, the couple of remix albums, the recent live record and the movie soundtracks. It's a fair statement to make that there's been an over-saturation of Mogwai in the last couple of years. Perhaps that explains why Rave Tapes feels like i've already heard it a dozen times or more, or maybe this once great band actually has run out of ideas and is condemned to producing a rehash of an album it released over a decade or so, and repeating the cycle every two years.
Let's start by giving Rave Tapes the benefit of the doubt. Early signs were things were about to change; there were smatterings of rumour from the band and people around the band that suggested the new record would take on much more of an electronic sound, much in the same way that many an underground indie act has had to fill their albums with electronic sounds and synths to keep up with current trends. The first material we heard from the record was “Remurdered” and it supported those rumours to a degree, but it was still quite clearly a Mogwai track in the same way that most Mogwai tracks are unmistakeably Mogwai tracks. And in reality, rather than a sign of things to come, “Remurdered” is actually something of a red herring. There's shimmers of synths here and there littered across the record, but nothing's brought to the forefront and nothing sounds particularly new and invigorating. Mogwai doesn't experiment with new sounds here any more than they did a decade ago, and the sounds that worked back then have stuck around, and those that haven't didn't, so there's still nothing new. It's almost like the band put the bright colours on the album art and called it Rave Tapes in an ironic fashion; those bright colours still sit on the dull, grey backdrop.
Still, there's something to be said for sticking to what you know best. Mogwai has pushed its creative boundaries to their limits and in 2014 the band is merely content to work within those boundaries and sometimes they do so perfectly well. “Hexon Bogon” sounds somewhat fresh, its distorted guitars at the forefront while “Master Card” is choc full of powerful riffs, The album's closing track “The Lord is Out of the Control” is the sonic vision we've come to expect from Mogwai and makes for a perfectly sombre close. It also fills the quota for the album's solitary track with a vocoder. It doesn't help that the best tunes are among the shortest on the album. These moments are too few and far between unfortunately the splendour of “Master Card” isn't nearly enough to save the album from the diabolical “Repelish.” It's the one track that the band has to have on every album with a spoken word sample, and in this instance that sample isn't even interesting enough to keep you listening. It's just some guy rambling on about how Led Zeppelin's “Stairway to Heaven” is full of Satanic messages, or something of that ilk. The music is beyond repetitive and lifeless and as such “Repelish” will go down as one of the worst things I'll be hearing for the entire year. “Deesh” takes a lifetime to get going and then it doesn't actually go anywhere. It's not even one of those slow-burners that takes its time as it builds up an atmosphere, it just meanders along aimlessly with its thumb out at the side of the road but there's no lift forthcoming.
I know Mogwai shies away from the use of a vocal, but these tracks would fit nicely with some lyrics, undoubtedly, and it would give the listener something else to actually latch onto. This works quite well on “Blues Hour.” It goes on for over six minutes and musically it doesn't teach us anything new or takes us to a new plane but we have a soft male vocal that at least manages to hold our attention for the bulk of the recording, except even overstays its welcome and we are left feeling underwhelmed at best and at worst exhausted. Listening to Rave Tapes becomes a chore, like waiting for a bus that you know is going to be late. Yes, it's still some pretty good music to get lost in but you just get the feeling that you've been lost here before and actually you know you're way around by this stage so what exactly is the point of it all? Too infrequent are the grand cinematic scopes of “Hexon Bogon” and for a band that's so well-travelled in the world of soundtracks that's unforgivable.
“The Lord is Out of Control” - Mogwai
The 411: If you're a fan of Mogwai, Rave Tapes is nothing you haven't already heard before, and if you're not a fan of Mogwai, this isn't going to change your mind, nor is it the place to start listening to the prolific Scottish post-rockers. Don't be fooled by the misleading title, Rave Tapes is no more a new direction for the band as 2001's Rock Action nor is it the demise of the band as the delve into the world of pounding synthesizers and unforgiving electronic elements. Rave Tapes is quintessential Mogwai without being essential in any sense of the word. Quite rightly, the band is content with their spot and why wouldn't they be, they have a dedicated following who likely lap this up, and they're well-positioned to continue making the same music for years to come without risking declining sales or ticket sales. For the casual fan, however, the ship has surely sailed.