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Friday, September 26, 2008

MOGWAI - The Hawk is Howling

Prior to listening to The Hawk is Howling, I heard “The Sun Smells Too Loud” for the first time and immediately got really excited. The track takes the band in a refreshing new direction, sprinkling sharp key changes and euphoric keyboards around their trademark epic rock sound. The result is a gorgeous and uplifting anthem of sorts; sun-drenched and glowing with a new promise. Mogwai have certainly dappled with the idea of electronic music in the past, but this experiment is the most exciting and captivating moment on the album. I just wish the track were more definitive of the rest of the disc as a whole.

With Hawk…, Mogwai re-team with early producer Andy Miller (Young Team) for the first time since 1998 and the results are intriguing. Completely instrumental, the album finds the band teetering between the familiar landscapes of their back catalog and a hesitant hint at what they might sound like in the future.

The album opens with the beautiful piano epic “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead”, thematically recalling 1999’s Come On Die Young tracks “Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/Antichrist” and “Punk Rock”, the latter of which sampled a notorious speech by Iggy Pop from the 70’s. Whether it be rock stars, cowboys, Satan, or even Jesus Christ, Mogwai seem obsessed with the idolatry of dramatic icons-a concept that works for them, as “Morrison” is one of the finer compositions here.

The blistering rocker “Batcat” follows with an aggressive vigilance, kicking the album into a compelling and highly promising first act. But things start sounding more and more familiar on tracks like the melancholic “Local Authority”, an ominous and complacent meditation, which again revisits the reminiscent tone of Come On Die Young. Tracks like “Danphe and The Brain” and “Kings Meadow”, while easy on the ear, come off as less interesting versions of older Mogwai songs and are ultimately forgettable.

The band fares much better with the languorous beauty of the humorously titled “I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School” and the searing urgency of “Scotland’s Shame”. The atmospheric “Thank You Space Expert” drifts along for nearly eight minutes in a lethargic haze, seamlessly capturing the essence of what it might feel like to float aimlessly in outer space. “The Precipice” serves as the album’s magnum opus closer. Mind-splitting guitars wage war against each other in a blazing, post-apocalyptic grande finale, something Mogwai have genuinely perfected and moderately improved upon over the years.

But despite a handful of inspired moments, The Hawk is Howling seems like another transitional album not unlike the prior effort, 2006’s Mr. Beast. Those expecting this to be the brilliant album in which Mogwai perfect the next logical step in their evolving sound might be mildly disappointed. While they respectfully remain a relevant force in the last decade of alternative music, it may be time for them to dive off of that comfortable “precipice”.

-Scot Bowman

Originally published at

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