Mogwai are the most frustrating of post-rock bands. After debuting with the now seminal Young Team in 1997, they have spent the last decade-plus barely meeting expectations (at best) and horribly disappointing (as worst) in nearly equal measure. Unfortunately, their intermittent successes have been overshadowed by their unwillingness to grow, whether that be musically, stylistically or both. The Mogwai formula has grown so stale by this point that each new release isn't met with the same shattering disappointment as some of their initial post-Young Team records were, but instead with downright indifference (which I'd argue is an even worse reaction). I continue listening though because it's Mogwai, and I know that they have it in them to scale great heights once again. Their failed attempts at "growth" - which for them has meant nothing more than compacting their huge compositions while layering electronics beneath the noise - has yielded very little in the way of extra emotional pull or atmospheric enhancement, two things which the Scottish band used to exude effortlessly. So it goes that Mogwai's new disc, The Hawk Is Howling, does a little of what every previous Mogwai album has done, at times lulling, while at others explosive, but never in the service of whole songs, let alone a complete record.
One thing Mogwai haven't lost over the years is their amazing way with song titles, and the Hawk Is Howling features some scathing descriptors. "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead", "The Sun Smells Too Loud" and "I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School" all immediately enter the pantheon of classic Mogwai titles, but little in the music - outside of the cacophonous final minute of "School" - registers even remotely as memorable as those titles would suggest. First single "Batcat" cuts out the build-and-release tactic that Mogwai perfected ten years ago and jumps straight to the release. The chugging guitars and thunderous low end could even be classified as metal, but ultimately the self consciousness of the grind cripples the intended effect. In fact, the ear-scraping climax of "School" is the only loud moment on The Hawk Is Howling that feels organic - if only the preceding 6 minutes weren't so laborious. And despite the fact that Mogwai do their best work in long form, ending the record with three 6+ minute snooze-fest kills whatever momentum "School" manages to build up.
While there are no egregious errors on Hawk- and I'll readily admit that there a numerous moments of pure beauty to be found here - the record as a whole still features the least amount of quality material on any Mogwai record yet. As Mogwai continue to mine the same territory that they pioneered in the late 90s, the returns continue to diminish, to the point where The Hawk Is Howling is merely a forgettable artifact from a dwindling band rather than a disappointment from an important act. Someone needs to send these guys the memo that post-rock is dead, and copy Explosions in the Sky, Mono and A Silver Mount Zion while they're at it.
Highlights: "I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School"
"I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead"
"I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School"