Whether it’s a new album, an EP or an under-promoted collaboration, Scottish post-rock legends Mogwai, never seem to fear the act of taking a 90-degree turn. Although the Earth Division EP only contains four tracks, each one boasts the potential for an entirely different step towards some potential future direction, each distinctively different than this year’s full-length, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. Yet the most distinctive characteristic of all is that each song lacks a traditional drum-set.
While opening track “Get to France” shouldn’t come as a surprise for die-hard Mogwai fans, it definitely varies from their past four studio-albums. In addition to being a scaled-down piano waltz, the piece also is one of three on this disc that is supported by a string quintet. If this notion brings the Clint Mansell soundtrack for The Fountain (which Mogwai worked on) to mind, you wouldn’t be too far off. The quiet, yet driven piece carries the dark, tactful mood that all Mogwai pieces do, but in a much sweeter manner than usual. It’s beautiful, and would be an interesting direction for the band to take next.
Track two, “Hound of Winter,” also brings previous Mogwai pieces to mind, but not the ones for which they’re best known. Played on guitar, piano and harmonica, with some soft-yet-spooky synth backing, the song accompanies a full set of lyrics. And without any drums or noisy sound escalations in the background, they are perhaps the most audible set of words in any work by the band. Again, this is Mogwai in a strange, new light: almost their spin on anti-folk.
Next, we have “Drunk and Crazy,” the most shocking sound on the album. While unlike many prior releases by the band, the song tips its hat to Fuck Buttons, whose Benjamin John Power has released music on the band’s Rock Action label as Blanck Mass. The track begins with a roaring instrumental that is as live as it is electronic. There are roaring guitars, pulsing synths, and percussive noises, but they never seem to come together to what most musicians would call a true melody. Then, suddenly the wave of noise dissipates and is replaced by a string solo. The solo grows into its own piece, until the same chaotic wave from before joins back in to round out the track. Yet again, an exciting direction that I wouldn’t mind hearing a whole album based around.
“Does This Always Happen?”, the EP’s closer, yet again reflects the band’s work on soundtracks, but presents a rather different mood. The first truly guitar-centered piece on the album, the entire piece revolves around one simple riff, which is doubled over and over again to accompaniment by piano, strings, bass and even more guitar. The beautiful piece makes a perfect finale to a rather short masterpiece.
Full of daring new directions that reflect upon their strong history as a band, Mogwai’s Earth Division EP is a must for any fan of serious music, classical, current or otherwise. Well impressed by this short effort, I look optimistically to their next release. After all, Mogwai did not get to where they are now by embracing their present sound too dearly.
Pat Metheny – Reich’s Electric Counterpoint
Clint Mansell – Soundtrack from Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain”
Blanck Mass – Blanck Mass
Stream: Mogwai – Earth Division