At this point, Mogwai could be forgiven for resting on its laurels. The group has grown into an acclaimed international act, 22 years and counting, with a reliable musical formula that’s steady as a slow-burning fuse. That remarkable consistency makes Every Country’s Sun resemble a greatest-hits album, even if it’s made up of brand-new tracks. It often comes across as though the band listened to its 2015 career retrospective, Central Belters, picked out its favorite moments across the years, then set out to pay tribute to them. But whereas the last record, Rave Tapes, found beauty in gentler sounds, even the hazy and washed-out dreamscape tracks here have a more muscular feel—charged, according to guitarist Stuart Braithwaite, by the record’s creation in tumultuous times.
This is evident from the first electronic pulses of album opener “Coolverine,” which phase softly in and out before the halting pitter-patter of drums, two-note peal of guitars, and gentle bass begin adding layers, led by a fuzzy synth melody, until it all swirls together beautifully, a spare composition and driving melody that feels more than a little influenced by the band’s recent scoring work on Les Revenants. But the second track is where the group really stretches. Braithwaite’s rarely heard voice is front and center on “Party In The Dark,” a straightforward, swooning pop exercise that finds the band delivering arguably the most accessible music it’s ever recorded. While the refrain calls out being “Hungry for another piece of mind,” the vocals wash in across every measure, like waves rolling across the rhythm. Both delicate and intense, it’s one of Mogwai’s boldest yet.
“Old Poisons” feels like one of the band’s rockers of old, a pummeling din of monster riffs and snare fills that fumes and fusses like something from Mr. Beast, barely letting the sound drop out halfway through before returning in greater force. “Don’t Believe The Fife” places a faint melody over a spare double-tapped beat, an introspective, cinematic feel that lasts until the halfway point, when the drums kick in under a surge of keyboards. “20 Size” delivers a Ry Cooder-esque guitar cry that thrums insistently, while “Crossing The Road Material” provides a Spiritualized-like driving bass melody and rhythm before erupting into a triumphant tripling of the main riff that propels it toward its cathartic release.
Despite the odd misstep—like the distant minimalism of “1000 Foot Face”—the album soars with a vibrancy that sustains it over its nearly hourlong running time. By now, there have been thousands of other bands plying Mogwai’s fusion of quiet and bombastic, but Every Country’s Sun argues that there’s still no one who does it better.