Mogwai has returned with a new full-length album and a sound as dark and brooding as ever. It’s the band’s first for Sub Pop Records after leaving Matador with the Hawk is HowlingHardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. Appropriately, the opening track “White Noise” sounds like a slip away from consciousness, with a buoyant guitar line that reverberates with every note on a steady, spare beat. Other instruments stack up, as brilliant vibes waft over the din in a patient, redundant melody. When the guitars rumble and screech to soaring heights, yes, this is the soundtrack to the eternal abyss, and the music that will forever live on after the last shake of your mortal coil.

The group’s name, a reference to the 1984 Joe Dante film Gremlins, started as a joke. But, as the band point out on their website’s FAQ, it also means “ghost” in Chinese. Now, after all these years, along comes the album that  fits their name for its more serious, ethereal reference.

The music is epic and otherworldly. Hissing guitars quake and rumble on the opening of “Rano Pano” in a manner that loosely recalls the original Godzilla theme song:

But it’s eerie beyond monster movie schlock. This is the sound a mountain might make if it began to shake and inch toward you.

With Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, Mogwai’s seventh album, the Scotland-based quintet are once again working with producer Paul Savage. Savage was in the studio to help bring to life Young Team, the acclaimed 1997 album that put Mogwai on the mostly instrumental, post-rock map. As much as I loved that album, which still stands tried and true in the annals of indie rock, Mogwai have grown up much since then. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will features a more focused and less self-indulgent sound. The shift has been gradual enough to make every album in-between interesting, and I have never tired of the band over the years. Don’t get me wrong, Mogwai still have a sense of humor, as seen in the official video for “Rano Pano”:

But do not be distracted by the goofy sci-fi/bromantic video above, the guys in the band have matured nicely. On Young Team, and other early works, Mogwai at times fumbled around with what can be best described as “noodling.” Over the course of their discography, they have learned to follow the music instead of force it. Like the soulful LCD Soundsystem and the masterful Robert Fripp, Mogwai create transcendent, complex music that sounds effortless and fluid.

A shout out goes out to Luke Sutherland who guests on the album on various instruments in addition to vocals on “Mexican Grand Prix,” a song that also recently got the official music treatment (and the album still hasn’t officially arrived [It’s due out Feb. 15]!):

Sutherland has been a frequent collaborator with Mogwai, and I loved his old band Long Fin Killie. I even had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing him for a profile piece in “JAM Entertainment News,” a Florida music mag that used to be available for free and local record stores before the rise of the Internet. Continuing with the theme of death, Sutherland brings the experience to the album, as he nearly died in a car accident while touring. But thank God he survived, because here is one of those rare vocal-oriented Mogwai tracks that works. Sutherland sings in an eerie, near unintelligible whisper over a buoyant bass line as noisy interweaving guitar lines pile up over an organ melody.

Finally, I do not own the vinyl version– yet– but I cannot wait to hear those beefy sounding drums tapping away at the skins on “Death Rays,” as organs swell and billow, following the lead of an electric guitar’s entrancing, triste melody on the analog medium (and Sub Pop knows how to press records [For the record, Matador is none too shabby either]).

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will can turn gray and gloomy at times (“Letters to the Metro” is especially hushed and dreary), and that mood is so well reflected in the odd twilight overcast images of the cityscapes that so suitably permeate the album art inside and out. All the better reason to hold it in the large record-size format of the double-LP.

Look out for a limited edition version of the album, as well, which includes a bonus CD featuring a 23-minute long piece called “The Singing Mountain” recorded for Douglas Gordon and Olaf Nicolai’s “Monument for Forgotten Future” installation in Essen, Germany. I have not heard the track, but the length sounds interesting.

Finally, you can stream the album free here, and experience it for yourself. If you like ambient, jazz or metal, Mogwai never seem to fail at bringing it all together in their truly original sound.

I just realized the coupling of image and music in the videos above do not compare with the gorgeous short film shot by the album art’s photographer, Antony Crook. It features an exclusive edit of “How to Be a Werewolf” off Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. You can watch “Thirty Century Man” here.

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Best records heard in 2010

December 30, 2010

I finally return just before 2010 ends, with a recap of the 10 best new records I heard this year (I probably spent too much time over-editing this post, but I also spent a lot of time catching up on tons of other albums that did not make the final cut below). I guess I should have finished this up before Christmas, as all the titles of the albums listed below link to, should you feel compelled to invest in these great albums. But, I’m not in this blogging thing for the money. Still, if you want any of these on vinyl, I would suggest you do it sooner than later anyway, as some LP records, unlike their CD or mp3 cousins, only get limited runs.

Without further ado…1. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (DFA/Virgin)
Not just the best album I heard the year, but one of the best I have heard in many years. LCD Soundsystem seemed to have merged an array of my favorite musical ingredients, including Krautrock, post punk, David Bowie and prog. The sometimes lengthy songs on This is Happening never relent, riding infectious, poly-rhythmic beats to some transcendent place in music well-rooted in the best of the rock ‘n’ roll canon.

2. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD)
There is just something so other-worldly about this album. It harks back to the past of pop music while reaching to the future beyond. Deerhunter has brought its dream-like lusciousness to a smart, subtle  level. Halcyon Digest seems to echo from some alternate, ghostly dimension in music.

3. MGMT – Congratulations (Columbia)
Congratulations was a bold step forward by MGMT, while staying true to its psychedelic art rock roots. The group moves beyond disco catchiness to something much more complex, earning comparisons to Pink Floyd, the Beatles and Brian Eno.

4. Mogwai – Special Moves (Rock Action)
Though I have been a dedicated fan of this post rock outfit, following their every release since 1998’s Kicking a Dead Pig, this live double album tracing their decade-plus career made me fall in love with the band all over again. Mogwai have always been generous with their releases, throwing in behind-the-scenes footage on  DVD alongside their recent albums. This live package happens to contain a long-form film of the live show recorded in Brooklyn on DVD, capturing the group in their typical focused and intense form. I was able to find a rare triple vinyl edition package that also included a patch and signed poster, as seen in the image. Only 550 copies featured the signed poster and sold out rather fast on their website.

5. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (Merge)
I like Arcade Fire because, as modern as they are, they seem very nostalgic and very anti-tech, even while offering a very baroque musical style that is brash, full of energy and in the now. Beyond their lyrics spelling this theme out, their vinyl records have always been produced with great care, and the Suburbs was no exception. They even posted images of every track on individual vinyl acetates, ahead of the album’s release (the image above is the first track, as featured on their website).

6. Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
A consistently dreamy album built on delicate melodies instead of the wash of noise that is so easy for dream-pop bands to hide behind. I picked up the vinyl album after I saw them live for the first time. It came with a DVD with amateurish videos for each song. None of these videos come near to equating the splendor of the music that defies visual representation. It’s best left unwatched.

7. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record (Arts & Crafts)
My love for Broken Social Scene stemmed from their sonic kinship with bands like the Sea and Cake and Tortoise. When they got together with those band’s drummer and key sonic engineer, John McEntire, for this new album, it felt like a perfect match. The results were indeed a magic melding of McEntire’s projects with BSS. A limited run of this album came out as a set of colored 10-inch 180 gram vinyl records with one song one each side. It was limited to only 500 copies, but it seems you can still get it on-line.

8. The Vaselines – Sex with an X (Sub Pop)
A brilliant comeback more than 20 years in the making. It’s like Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee had never separated at the end of the 80s. Their sly sense of humor remains intact, not to mention the brash song-writing that still echoes their garage-rock origins, albeit with a more polished and glossier production.9. Of Montreal – False Priest (Polyvinyl)
Speaking of a more polished sound, Of Montreal followed up the most insane record of their career, Skeletal Lamping, with the better focused False Priest. It did not take many listens to fall under the glammy, soulful spell of this neo glam rock outfit’s landmark 10th album. More than ever, mastermind and singer Kevin Barnes shows off his leanings toward Prince-inspired stylings with not only his howls and moans but also his songcraft.

10. Stereolab – Not Music (Drag City)
Stereolab made a low-key return to the indie music scene at the end of the year with their new “non-album” composed of outtakes from the sessions that produced 2008’s Chemical Chords. Appropriately titled Not Music, the album reveals the “groop” at its most unrestrained in years. “Silver Sands” was just a low-key three-minute ditty on Chemical Chords, but on Not Music, it’s extended to take on a whole side of one of the slabs of vinyl to jam out in all it’s Krautrock-inspired glory. This was a glorious return to the old Stereolab I fell in love with in the early nineties. The collector-friendly (or frustrating, depending on how you see it) band has released only 500 copies of the vinyl version of the album on clear wax via the UK’s Rough Trade store. Yep, I got a copy.

Finally, though I know I have been on “hiatus” for a while (man, the indie world is quiet this time of year), I do plan a prompt follow-up to present readers with the most impressive re-issue I came across this year, and I did come across several cool things.

For now, do share your top own 10 albums in the comment section below (it doesn’t have to be vinyl).

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)