Nothing can mellow a band quite like time. Nearly two decades into pushing various iterations of intensely sprawling post-rock instrumentals, Mogwai has both flirted with and rebelled against the measured calm of experience and age—increasingly exploring quieter, reflective tones in numerous soundtrack scores since 2006, but lashing back at any presumption of dulled edges with 2011’s relatively raw and heavy Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. Having thus proven it can still get raucous and aggressive, the Scottish quintet has reapplied itself to softer textures and ethereal atmospheres on the complex, mature Rave Tapes.
In many ways, Rave Tapes is an inevitable fusion of the group’s expansive, meditative soundtrack work (including 2006’s spacey Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait and last year’s ominously moody score for French quasi-zombie-themed TV show Les Revenants) and the meticulously crafted tapestries of layered guitars that define its more rock-focused catalogue. Using a bigger instrumental toolbox, Rave Tapes takes an unabashedly electronic approach, relying on weighty, pulsing synths to contrast shimmering guitars and grating distortion on the epic jam “Simon Ferocious” and to set a darkly menacing pace for “Remurdered,” a twisty, thudding labyrinth of electro-prog. And while the album often conspicuously decelerates into pools of ambient soundscapes—even boldly kicking off with the dreamily tranquil “Heard About You Last Night”—it doesn’t completely abandon the band’s penchant for cacophonous bombast; the grinding “Hexon Bogon” and “Master Card,” for example, will feel familiar to loyalists.
By now, however, Mogwai has thoroughly mined the boundaries of overblown guitar bluster, so the less it feels the need to retread, the better. Rave Tapes ultimately works best when it confidently wades into cooler, more contemplative waters, providing a graceful counterbalance to its noisier flourishes and maintaining a consistent emotional flow. Though it’s great that the years haven’t sapped the group’s energy, this record’s greatest achievement is putting seasoned songwriting abilities to good use.