Scottish post-rockers Mogwai are back, with The Hawk Is Howling - their sixth studio album. Wall Of Sound are the label this time, with Matador releasing the record in the US.
The obtusely named I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead starts with a delicate piano, before building slowly as bass, guitar and drums layer on top of each other, steadily heightening the intense atmosphere. There are no vocals or lyrics of course, and as Jim Morrison didn't play guitar it's hard to know what he's saying. In fact, without lyrics the song titles are all we do have to decode this album and work out what Mogwai are trying to say. Thankfully "The Sun Smells Too Loud", "I Love You, I'm Going To Blow Up Your School" and "Thank You Space Expert" spell it out in black and white.
While titles like these might offer little in the way of explanation - seeming more like very personal thoughts and ideas - they do add a certain intensity and suggestion to the music, however misleading they may in fact be. Eschewing some of the more left-field experiments of previous records, the album plays a fairly straight bat - with most songs concentrating on a slow-burning intensity that leads to eventually reward, rather than the more pummeling up/down sound of some of their post-rock contemporaries. Where Explosions In The Sky virtually never fail to deliver an unmitigated rock-out, some of these songs do tend to boil a bit too long - failing to bubble over and ending instead in anti-climax by going for a more constant atmospheric approach, raher than hugely distinctive peaks and troughs. As a result, much of the album can slip by unnoticed - all thorurughly fine, but just slightly dis-engaging.
Mogwai have always seemed to have a bullet-proof mystique to them, from their cult name, through obscure concerts on Scottish islands, to the superior artwork of this and other records - dismissing potential commercial projects to work on the likes of the Zidane movie. The Hawk Is Howling does nothing to damage that reputation, instead just becoming another piece of a diverse cannon of work, much of which doesn't quite encapsulate the band as it seems like it should.