Rock Action
Pias Recordings
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1Sine Wave 4:57
2Take Me Somewhere Nice 6:59
3O I Sleep 0:55
4Dial_ Revenge 3:30
5You Don't Know Jesus 8:05
6Robot Chant 1:04
72 Rights Make 1 Wrong 9:33
8Secret Pint 3:37

There are a few things in this world I'm pretty sure of. One of them is that, in a "Survivor"-like desert island competition between Mogwai and fellow crescendo-rockers Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Mogwai would be taking home the grand prize. While Godspeed's Efrim Menuck would spend his time trying desperately to craft cigarettes out of coconut shells, picking bugs out of his beard, and figuring out a way to fabricate cellophane in which to bury the dead, Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite would be busy sabotaging the enemy camp, starting bonfires, and dancing naked under the light of the moon.

Alright, so maybe I'm exaggerating. But it can't be denied that of all the bands making epic, apocalyptic rock music these days, Mogwai seem to be the only ones who can sit back at the end of the day and have a good laugh. Sure, their music can be extremely serious and deeply affecting, but there's an element of adventurousness and willingness to fuck with your expectations that makes Mogwai less dire than their competitors.

This adventurousness is evidenced by the fact that Mogwai managed to craft a brilliant debut-- 1997's Young Team-- that achieved the sainted goal of balancing fragile beauty and overwhelming sonic terror. Young Team allowed Mogwai to perfectly encapsulate the essence of their namesake-- those crazy little critters from the movie Gremlins. I still remember the song of the Mogwai; it's a simple, beautiful melody sung in freakish la-la's, yet signifies imminent destruction and face-rippage. Such was the case with Young Team-- a beautifully orchestrated melodic passage could successfully lull you into submission. You pet it. You kiss it. You feed it after midnight... and boom! Layered feedback, crashing cymbals, vacuum cleaner noises, claws, teeth, and wanton destruction.

Sadly, the follow-up to Young Team, 1999's Come On Die Young, replaced the aural explosions of the debut with gradual burnouts. Songs that could potentially have been made great seemed to go absolutely nowhere, resulting in an album full of wasted promise-- a better soundtrack to an afternoon nap than a terrifyingly beautiful explosion.

So what did the boys in Mogwai do? Did they go home and whine to their mamas? Of course not. Mogwai isn't a band of words, they're a band of action-- in this case, Rock Action. As of late, the music press has been falling all over itself to point out that-- get this-- Rock Action is not actually full of action, nor does it rock. And while, yes, the album is, for the most part, a very deliberate, moderately paced album, it manages much like Young Team to pack a stellar amount of energy into a medium-tempo rock song.

Which is not to say that Rock Action is a carbon copy of Young Team. Far from it, in fact. Perhaps the greatest difference between this record and its predecessors is the expanded range of sounds incorporated. In the past, Mogwai have been largely guitar-driven, relying on plucked melodies coupled with soaring feedback crescendos to create their trademark sound. Here, such diverse elements as banjos, patterned static, and the Welsh (singer Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals) are incorporated, making Rock Action the most sonically dense release of Mogwai's career thus far.

This more complex sound has its ups and its downs. On the positive side, it makes Rock Action a really fun album to pick apart. Dave Fridmann's production is flawless, affording each instrument just the right mix of distinction and ambiguity to create an engaging, yet cohesive whole. Unfortunately, this expanded repertoire comes at a cost. One could say that Rock Action is more focused on sound and less so on melody and structure than the classic Young Team. As a result, the epic "You Don't Know Jesus," the album's standout track, never attains the level of jaw-dropping perfection that Young Team's "Like Herod" or "Mogwai Fear Satan" laid claim to.

Still, Rock Action certainly has its peak moments. Aside from "You Don't Know Jesus," two shorter tracks-- the opening "Dial: Revenge" and "Secret Pint"-- perfectly showcase the strengths of Mogwai's new direction. The former, which features the talents of the aforementioned Gruff, puts vocals to better effect than the band's previous singing excursions, creating a stunningly gorgeous orchestral rock track that seems to extend far beyond its 3\xBD-minute duration. The latter, the album's closer, puts to work sparse piano, huge-sounding drums, and mumbled vocals, giving a beautiful ending to a similarly beautiful record.

Despite the changes the band has been through on the road from Young Team to Rock Action, there are enough unifying elements to conclude that those of you who seriously dug the band's earlier work will find a lot to like about the record. Granted, it's not mind-blowing, and it's not nearly as masterfully executed and affecting as their earliest work. But there are only a handful of bands out there that can put out an album as well-constructed as Rock Action and still expect people to bitch and moan about it. The fact that Mogwai can laugh at their detractors could either lead to the band pursuing brave new directions in rock, or traveling down a path of smug self-satisfaction and stagnation. Either way, Rock Action suggests that it'll be worth sticking around to find out. - Pitchfork