Mogwai’s first full-length album, 1997’s Young Team, was greeted with widespread critical acclaim, and each subsequent record has received at least an approving nod. Every critic likes to play the name game, and here is a band that wears its influences on its sleeve: My Bloody Valentine, Slint, Sonic Youth, any band described with the prefix “post-.” Also frequently lauded are the band’s exceptionally loud live performances—again, the obvious reference is Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine. But if this band isn’t supposed to sound new, shouldn’t it at least sound better? Like our own export, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, Scotland’s Mogwai is sound and fury signifying jack-shit. Their deafening exterior is only there to mask the only quality worse than derivativeness: tedium. If there’s any hype left about Mogwai, don’t bother believing it.
A whopping three-fourths of Mogwai’s newest release Mr. Beast follows the following formula: a simplistic piano melody or guitar riff layered over distorted chords and drums mixed far too high in the mix; then, as the song moves toward its climax (read: the recording engineer pushes up the levels), a new track of an even more distorted guitar enters and plays a single, quick tremolo note high on the fret board with lots of reverb. Seriously, this is pretty easy to play, but not in the good way, like “Louie Louie” or “Cortez The Killer.” But simplicity doesn’t make Mr. Beast unpleasant, just dumb. The other fourth, however, is unpleasant. Steer clear of Mogwai’s “quiet” side, including modest attempts at beauty and artiness like the gushing instrumental “Emergency Trap” and the Air-esque “Acid Food,” which is disappointingly not instrumental—Mogwai pulls off the computer/robot/vocoder voice thing even worse than Air does.
“I Chose Horses” is the album’s most baffling and grating moment, partly because the lyrics are a Japanese poem read by Envy’s Tetsuya Fukagawa, but mostly because given all of Mogwai’s great predecessors, why plagiarize New Age mood music? “Friend Of The Night,” on the other hand, isn’t bad—it has a bridge, so the soft-soft-LOUD-LOUD-LOUD dynamics make a little more sense, given the song’s structure. The song’s melody borrowed from an early Sigur Rós song, but it’s under a few layers of fuzzy synthesizers and echo-laden drums. At track six, “Friend Of The Night” is right at the peak of the 10-song-long Mr. Beast, so the band may have had an inkling that it’s the album’s finest moment. Regardless, it’s the only song this listener wouldn’t mind listening to without being occupied with something else at the time.