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Mogwai: Happy Songs For Happy People



Album: Happy Songs For Happy People
Label: Matador

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Dismissing Mogwai as a vessel only for the darkest in instrumental gloom denies its breadth of both emotion and sound. While the long-running Scottish band's sonic contemporaries bask in overwhelming and mysterious awe (Sigur Rós) or massive commercial success in the face of conventional wisdom (Radiohead), Mogwai exists at the spotlight's periphery, owner of a smaller slice of the atmospheric-rock pie. It may be the band's lack of reticence that makes its music less mysterious and seemingly less deserving of real weight: Its members give weird interviews, scoff openly at their peers, and give their own utterly serious soundscapes titles like "Moses? I Amn't" and "I Know You Are But What Am I?" But even the cheeky title of its fourth proper album, Happy Songs For Happy People, can't mask Mogwai's serious intent, as illustrated throughout its 40 minutes of swelling, joke-free highs and lows. Over the years, the group has shed its predilection toward maximum dynamics: Whereas on the awesome early singles compilation Ten Rapid (whose "Summer" can be heard in a current Levi's commercial), the group butted grinding riffs against melodic, delicate moments, it now prefers a more gradual approach. The journey, as it were, becomes the climax, and vice versa. While its last couple of albums have suffered slightly from this down-shift, Happy Songs finds middle ground between brevity and meandering. At eight minutes, "Ratts Of The Capital" sounds most like the Mogwai of old, with crashing guitars breaking through a brooding soundtrack, while the more expansive "Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep" sounds like a less gauzy, more grounded Sigur Rós, complete with unintelligible vocals. It's those vocals, and the others that pop up infrequently on Happy Songs, that represent the album's only notable weakness: As is the case with Mogwai's closest aural associate Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the band is most compelling when the music is left to tell its own story.