It feels strange to describe the new Mogwai record as a comforting blanket, but here we are. It apparently was a deliberate decision on the part of the band, spurred on by the tumultuous global events of the past year or so, internationally. But even if that narrative wasn’t attached to the album from the outside, it would still be apparent from the sound.
Every Country’s Sun is mostly one of their lighter records, along the lines of Rock Action and Happy Songs for Happy People. Their last proper non-soundtrack LP Rave Tapes, also toed this line, but folded in a level of joyousness that previously had been mostly absent from Mogwai’s music. Every Country’s Sun takes an aspect of that joy, a gentle comfort and optimism, and dials down everything else to a simmer; what’s left is burbling synthesizers, warm analog hum and the crackle of distorted guitars. It isn’t quite shoegaze, but definitely isn’t post-rock anymore either. There are songs here, proper and regularized song-structures. Hell, there’s even a pop song!
“Party in the Dark” is ultimately the cut that rises above the rest. This is no knock to the other tracks on this record; they play nice with each other, build and develop a mood around the same comforting bed of sound. But on “Party,” the rare vocals emerge, and this time seek to take a place front and center, (mostly) unobscured by effects and production. What unfolds is their first unabashed pop-rock song, albeit one cloaked in shoegazing fuzz and alt-rock strummed chords. It is the thesis of the record, the beating heart, built around a sense that even in despair and powerlessness we can seek and cling to joy as a weapon against constant encroaching terror. In a career of constant effective mood music, Mogwai has delivered what sounds like the best single song of their lives.
The rest of the tracks, meanwhile, don’t quite live up to the standard set by “Party in the Dark.” They are by no means bad; each is a rich and surprisingly spare endeavor. They recently had a long-standing member resign to pursue solo work and, instead of replacing him, they soldiered on as a four-piece. They take this new lineup seriously, a traditionalist rock/pop setup of two guitars, one bass and a drum kit with occasional synth and keyboard accompaniment. Their music is much less dense now, miles away from the scalding waves of crushing guitar distortion on tracks like “My Father My King,” a direction they’ve been plodding toward ever since The Hawk is Howling. It would be improper, really, to say something cliche like: “Now they’ve arrived.” Each record from Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will has been a tenuous step closer, each soundtrack a further embrace of their more sparse and thoughtful arrangements rather than brutish and wild ones, with Rave Tapes being particularly gentle and distant.
Here they have pursued their closest approximation of out-and-out indie rock, alternative rock, college rock, however you’d like to name it. This doesn’t ring out as a crazy experiment or a step out into the unknown. This is a retreat, technically, into songs and palettes that are much more standard, but it’s a retreat into a space that Mogwai have up until this point very rarely explored. The narrative of comfort returns; whether things will still sound good one man down, in the dark, lights off, scared of the future. They do.