As someone who has listened to Happy Music for Happy People virtually incessantly since I got it, I was understandably excited by the new Mogwai release, and, as it turns out, I was fully justified in being so.
The Hawk Is Howling takes Mogwai to a whole new level of, well, size. The sound is absolutely enormous at times, with much more use of synth than previous albums to create, if it were even possible, a much darker feel. At others, however, such as the piano led introduction to the first track, the appropriately morosely titled ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’, the band strip everything back to their earliest releases, with simple, repeated chords eventually swirling into their huge new sound when the drums and guitars join in, making more of a homage to the 1812 Overture than to ‘Light My Fire’.
Mogwai continue the momentum of the first track with ‘Batcat’, this time driven by a heavily distorted bass line punctuated by equally heavily distorted guitars, making for a meaty sound indeed. Never wanting to seem boring, they then turn the volume down on ‘Danphe And The Brain’ and ‘Local Authority’, taking us from cacophonic energy to melancholic contemplation in the space of 6 minutes.
For me, the next track, despite its perhaps slightly contrived sounding title ‘The Sun Smells Too Loud’, is the runaway stand-out on this album. Its inventive major-minor progression and its dare I say it poppy riff shows clearly why Mogwai are at the top of their genre; they simply manage to avoid the trap of becoming dull and repetitive, which most people would regard as the worst thing about ‘post-rock’ and its myriad exponents. Yet I find it hard to put my finger on just why they’re not boring. They should be: they’re from the frozen wastes of Scotland and follow the same loud-soft terraced dynamics as now seem to be required of every instrumental band around, but they somehow seem to create a feeling in their music which you just can’t help but follow.
With ‘King’s Meadow’ and ‘I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School’, Mogwai seem to reach the most pensive part of this album, with the glitchy harp samples on ‘King’s Meadow’ providing an almost rain-drop backing to the layered guitars on top. ‘Scotland’s Shame’ then does something amazing. It moves on from the previous tracks’ melancholy, then mid tune switches back to the more raucous sound of the first two tracks, providing a unity to this album which most bands cannot get near to. At eight minutes exactly this tune is by no means an easy listen, however the introduction of the spiraling delayed guitars and the inexorable rhythm makes this tune truly comprehensive in its composition – it takes the all-pervading sobriety of Mogwai’s sound and combines it with their heavier elements, resulting in an adventure within the epic of this record itself. Superb.
‘Thank You Space Expert’ and ‘The Precipice’ provide a suitably climactic conclusion to this amazing album, with ‘The Precipice’ rising to a deliberate, inescapable ending, leaving me in no doubt that this is their best effort to date, and while some may have taken exception to the heavier direction Mogwai have taken, I think it’s a bloody good direction, and hope their next release is anywhere near as good as this one.