Mogwai are a band that make big statements and subtle shifts. The distance between the forceful eruptions in volume of 1997’s Mogwai Fear Satan and the low-key electronic landscapes of 2014’s Rave Tapes, for instance, is indeed vast, but in that 17-year span they allowed that evolution to happen naturally, never in a hurry to force reinvention in favor of refinement. Yet, remarkably, as time goes on it becomes more complicated to boil what Mogwai does down to a single archetype or canonical moment. Mood and atmosphere are their stock in trade, but increasingly it’s the smaller details that have come to define what they do—the spaces between the crescendos, the breath after the roar.
Since 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will and on up through 2017’s Every Country’s Sun, Mogwai have delivered those moments through what’s increasingly become a more pop-oriented songwriting approach. “Richie Sacramento,” the second single from the band’s tenth album As the Love Continues, makes that explicit, unmistakable. It’s not the first time the band’s reveled in hooks, hard-driving rhythms and shoegaze guitars, but it’s evidence enough that, if they wanted to, Mogwai could pretty comfortably make an album’s worth of dense and fuzzy guitar pop.
That And the Love Continues isn’t that only reinforces the band’s commitment to unpredictability and aversion to repetition. Taken track by track, it feels in large part like a comprehensive career summary and an amplification of their best qualities, though not all of these ideas have shared space on the same sides of vinyl before. “Drive the Nail” punches and erupts with the bombast of Mogwai mk. 1, while the synth-heavy interstellar buzz of “Fuck Off Money” finds them expanding their emotional robot galaxy outward toward the one that gave M83 its name. It’s in large part a collection of great standalone moments, such as the blissful drift of “Dry Fantasy” or the crunchy instrumental grunge of “Ceiling Granny,” which is what makes And the Love Continues one of Mogwai’s more purely enjoyable albums.
After the more concise, measured statements of Every Country’s Sun, however, it’s still reassuring to know that Mogwai’s sense of drama remains firmly intact. The stunning closer, “That’s What I Want to Do, Mum,” is very much one of those big Mogwai statements, a slowly opening piece of dreamlike wonder that hits the throttle a few minutes in and only keeps ascending higher. It’s a move best used sparingly, and here it’s the show-stopping closer, a fitting encore for a set of great songs that says as much about where Mogwai have been as it does where they’re headed.
Label: Temporary Residence
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.