Review : MOGWAI – "Special Moves"

Mogwai“Special Moves/Burning”
Release date: 2010 Aug24 (EU)
Label: Rock Action
Rating: 5/5

In the late nineties I was desperate to find a way out of a metal scene that seemed stale and generic. The Seattle sound was plagiarized by the anemic music industry and copycats were diluting the once-exciting music of Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Thrash metal had lost its footing to nu metal, and many bands fell off into obscurity. My portal into the exciting underground of sludge, doom and drone were to be an unknown Scottish group called Mogwai. With the album “Young Team” they completed the trinity of post-rock alongside the jazzy Tortoise and the spoken-word conspiracy theorists in Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Mogwai‘s sound was one of a thousand guitars—sacrificing jazz noodling and introvert droning on the altar of sound, fusing a punk aestethic with noise music and majestic slabs of guitars.

More than a decade later, the band soldier on through the same soundscapes. Yes, they have included some vocals throughout the years. Yes, they have done a soundtrack to a film about famed footballer Zinedine Zidane. But their preferred game is still quiet-versus-loud instrumental rock, and they do it really well. Though some complain about reluctance to evolve, there is no need for dramatic change. Mogwai have their own vision—polishing their beautiful sound into something out of this world.

I drooled at the mindboggling concept of a Mogwai concert album and film. This is one of the few bands that has made me physically lose my breath; it was during an apocalyptic rendition of their classic track “Mogwai Fear Satan” in the darkened club So What! in Oslo in the late nineties. So expectations were running quite high—to say the least—when I opened the package from the record store. Would my expectations for this album be fulfilled?  Oh, yes. Mogwai‘s live version of “Mogwai Fear Satan” is worth the cost of this album alone. This mastodon of rumbling bass roars, marching drums and guitar walls thicker than pitch-black night descends upon the listener like never before—an ominous, beautiful, sacred and incendiary sonic madness.

Special Moves achieves what many live albums cannot: an excellent introduction to those unfamiliar with the band. The setlist consists of tracks from all of Mogwai‘s albums and the sound is incredible. I would especially recommend the shoegazing white noise of “New Path To Helicon, Pt. 2”, the warm cyborg vocals of “Hunted By A Freak”, the aforementioned monster “Mogwai Fear Satan”, and the icing on the cake:  “Like Herod”. I have spun this album for days now, and it just keeps on growing.

An integral part of this record is the concert film, Burning, recorded at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, filmed exclusively with handheld b/w cameras, inspired by art films.  You get a strong sense of what it was like to be there, and in between each song on the DVD, as the filmmakers capture that distant and claustrophobic, yet very warm and human, presence of New York City.  The cameras help portray the band as mythical characters, not unlike Velvet Underground in the late sixties. Burning adds more fuel to that fire and the film turns into a beautiful white-noise document of a most impressive rock act.

A definite contender for the album of the year!

Special Moves

01. I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead
02. Friend of the Night
03. Hunted By a Freak
04. Mogwai Fear Satan
05. Cody
06. You Don’t Know Jesus
07. I Know You Are But What Am I
08. I Love You, I’m Going to Blow Up Your School
09. 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong
10. Like Herod
11. Glasgow Megasnake

Extra tracks on vinyl

12. Yes! I Am a Long Way From Home
13. Scotland’s Shame
14. New Paths to Helicon Part 1
15. Batcat
16. Thank You Space Expert
17. The Precipice

Burning

01. The Precipice
02. I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead
03. Hunted By a Freak
04. Like Herod
05. New Paths to Helicon Part1
06. Mogwai Fear Satan
07. Scotland’s Shame
08. Batcat

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