t’s too bad that Mogwai have been doomed to a career of full-length albums, because they would’ve made a world-beater singles band. Imagine for a second, a universe where it’s OK for a prickly Scottish quintet to focus not on the sequencing and dynamics of the long player, but rather to use their albums to support one or two monolith tracks. We could all gladly hoard our limited run “Like Herod” 10 inches, marvel over the beauty of the “Superheroes of BMX”/”Katrien” double-A, and rifle through boxes of used 45’s, praying to come across “Stanley Kubrick.”
This alternate universe isn’t too far from what we’ve got now: Mogwai albums have long featured two or three mashers, and the band has often done its best work on EP’s and the occasional single anyway. The Mogwai album that acts most like a full-length—the well-sequenced, song-oriented Rock Action—is consistently undersold, even by the band’s fans. And the significant lulls on the band’s most respected album, Young Team, are conveniently ignored, probably because “Yes, I Am a Long Way From Home!” and “R U Still in 2 It” blitz so devastatingly. The world we live in, however, thinks it somewhat unbecoming for a mostly instrumental post-rock behemoth to issue singles, and that’s why Mogwai fans are left to wade through a whole lotta excess material. Because as vessels for several inspired moments, Come on Die Young, Happy Songs for Happy People, and now, Mr. Beast function brilliantly. As emotionally invested long-players, all these albums suffer from severe lulls.
Part of the problem, it seems, is that ever since Come on Die Young, Mogwai have attempted to accomplish with tempo and precision what they best do with volume and melody: warp, flip, and fry sound to the point of jagged, familiar emotion. Mogwai should’ve been expected to refine their compositions, mellow their animalistic tendencies, and attempt to prod the same nerves using subtler, more dexterous moves. As a result, Mogwai’s material has sounded increasingly disconnected, only occasionally nestling into the uncomfortable emotional corners they used to batter into unannounced.
Mr. Beast suffers from this increase in skill more obviously than any previous album. The band has never sounded more composed, accomplished, or in control of their art, but they have also rarely sounded more sterile. One decade ago, the band would’ve kicked things off with “Glasgow Mega-Snake,” a pointed, punishing rocker that features the type of thorny lead guitar that has often lent poignancy to the band’s rhythmic thrusts. Instead, “Mega-Snake” hits second, preceded by the pretty, piano-fed (and aptly-named) “Auto Rock.” Problem is, “Auto-Rock” runs over four minutes, at which point it ceases to be a baiting introduction and morphs into a placid cinema that all but holds the audience’s hand through the first few minutes of the album.
When Mogwai remember that dissonance and aggression are as relatable as beauty and melody, they still kick out the jams: “Folk Death 95” and “We’re No Here” both axe harshly, the band’s energy focused on their always-chugging guitars. “Travel Is Dangerous” finally releases frontman Stuart Brathwaite’s underrated voice from the plodding tempos it usually inhabits, proving, with thrilling results, that Brathwaite can steer a full-bodied, up-tempo melody. Much of the rest of Mr. Beast seems to inhabit a static post-rock purgatory, in which pianos and glistening electronics lead to the type of major-key, unfettered prettiness that Sigur Ros is dying to make a career out of.
Mogwai are still an inspired, intelligent group, as the occasional successes and ever-brilliant song titles of Mr. Beast suggest, but their moments of true impact are few. If the focus of Mr. Beast were on its handful of great moments then it would be easy to overlook the band’s less inspired tracks, and declare Mr. Beast another transport for Mogwai’s steady stream of singles. But Mogwai’s relative silence between material, their lack of true sonic progression, and the dynamics of the post-rock scene force us to consider Mr. Beast as a long-player; as such, there’s little to differentiate Mr. Beast from Happy Songs, and less to recommend it in the face of Mogwai’s potent catalog. The title of this album suggests tamed savagery, and Mogwai is a band that has long used its wit to suggest what its instrumental passages cannot. Unfortunately, the music of Mr. Beast doesn’t need any help.