Review : Mogwai - Earth Division EP
PitchforkIf that fire that hit the Sony/PIAS warehouse in London during the recent UK riots seemed abstract to you, consider this: Mogwai's Earth Division EP was one of the releases stacked in the warehouse when the fire hit. The whole stock of it was lost, and because they had to re-press it, they couldn't offer it for pre-order on their website. Multiply that across thousands of releases, and you have a pretty good idea of the effect that fire had on the industry-- it gave a lot of people who were already struggling to make money off music a hell of a hard time.
All the more ironic, then, that Earth Division is among Mogwai's least fiery, least riotous recordings. The four songs, each averaging about four minutes long, mostly showcase the band's softest, most melancholy tendencies, tendencies that on the band's LPs are often set off by volume spikes, long crescendos, white noise, and the cumulative effects of repetition over long periods with subtle changes. Here, with one exception, they sound as though they're in soundtrack mode. The EP's bookend instrumentals especially have a cold and studied feel, mixing strings with piano and, on closer "Does This Always Happen?", a single repeated guitar phrase, to create static soundscapes. "Get to France" is gloomy and doomy, but feels almost like it would work best as an intro to something bigger.
The middle of the EP is given to the extremes of the band's sound. "Hound of Winter" is the only vocal track, and like many of the band's vocal tracks, it's instrumentally rich but melodically flat. Acoustic guitars and harmonicas don't seem to suit them quite as well as electric guitars. The real keeper is "Drunk and Crazy", which draws on Mogwai's experimental strengths to create a miniature that feels far more drawn-out and epic than it actually is. It begins in a morass of lunging static and cuts suddenly to a middle passage of gorgeously arranged strings. The intro isn't some kind of fake-out-- the static returns later to swallow everything-- but the dynamic shifts, from shuddering noise to traditional beauty and back again, give the song a strong, compelling form....full text
GuardianThis song is a lovely piano ditty by John (Cummings). It also features a string arrangement by the wonderful and wonderfully double-barrelled Paul Leonard-Morgan. To my thoroughly dishevelled ears it is reminiscent of Erik Satie, but John could well have been going for something entirely different. He's hard to read. The song title is, like many of our titles, a shamelessly stolen piece of Scottish colloquialism.
Hound of Winter
I'd describe this as a power-free power ballad. Which, in essence, is just a ballad. Confessing to writing a ballad is a brave thing to do, though at 35 years of age, abandoning a fear of judgment can easily be confused with bravery. The strings on this are by the irrepressible Luke Sutherland. A man who I recently witnessed convincing our lighting engineer that vegans ate eggs, but only the yolks.
Drunk and Crazy
A lot of credit for this piece of randomonia must go to the producer of this EP, Paul Savage. This track recorded in three stages. First Barry (Burns)'s piano, then the strings and finally a pile of guitar noise. Somehow Paul managed to arrange all of this in a very imaginative fashion into what you hear. I'm still amazed as to how it turned out. The title is stolen from a country and western album that I found in the DJ booth of the Grand Ole Opry in Glasgow.
Does This Always Happen?
This is a very simple song augmented again with a great string arrangement by Paul Leonard-Morgan. I'm sure Barry won't appreciate the compliment but I think his improvised piano part here is really special. The title is a quote from our friend, the musician and artist Tom Schofield, who uttered this in bemusement when he walked into a psychedelic rock show in a very fancy private members club in Glasgow.
I hope you enjoy the music....full text
NoripcordI guess the post-rock thing is sort of easy to exhaust. The music is mostly beautiful and well performed. The atmospherics are active and the sounds travel the expanse at a slow and ghostly rate. Thereís enough brawn for ďrockĒ(ers) and enough sensitivity to completely dispel the notion of machismo. Itís a formula that works well enough to yield results, but what comes after post-rock?
The answer is more post-rock: More expansive sounds, more sensitive riffs and more volume. As an example, this yearís Take Care, Take Care, Take Care from Explosions In The Sky appealed to me more than 2007ís All Of Sudden I Miss Everyone, but even I have to admit that it was more of the same. Speaking generally, I donít know if thereís a refusal to branch out on the part of the bands of this ilk, or if the genre doesnít offer a clause that eases the use of transitional or experimental elements, only the overuse of sounds that, after awhile, become cold and calculated. The expanse grows and the sounds become harder to reach. Even worse, progression almost seems nonexistent over the course of a post-rock bandís discography once the technique is established, which I consider a drawback. There has to be more to this than pretty and loud.
Merely months after earning some decent praise amongst the critical hierarchy with their latest LP, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, Mogwai releases Earth Division, a four-song EP of post-chamber-electro dirge that I personally wasnít expecting: pretty and quiet. Apparently culled from the bandís Hardcore sessions, Mogwaiís four-song EP seems a reaction against the bandís genre, one introduced dramatically with Get To France, a veritable score of piano strokes and violin strings that dollop the glue upon the back of your hand so it may find permanent residence against your forehead. I donít want to suggest clichéd and forced tragedy or melodrama, but the tone of Get To France has a story, one concluding in either a resolution or a shoulder to cry upon. It just feels bad, though it sounds beautiful.
While I wonít say itís such a departure, (Hardcoreís Letters To The Metro could very well have been selected for the EP), Earth Divisionís introduction of sophisticated drama undermines the bandís oft-airy and amplified output. And, they follow this with a folk song, (thereís even a harmonica), called Hound of Winter, nary a vocal effect to be heard while that ran so prevalent in Hardcore. Acoustic instrumentation, including some very distant string play, builds a singer/songwriter variation on the post-rock model, the airy and atmospheric bolstering of mostly analog elements.
Drunk And Crazy, though, pairs the bandís electro-rock buzz with these same elements, offering the violins and pianos an opportunity to speak their piece before the circuits are once again enacted, a fuzzy and barely audible pulse its only hint of percussion. Drunk And Crazy seems more resigned to weep in its brew, exasperated, somber and erratic, which leads into plain old sorrow with Does This Always Happen?.
Posed against Hardcore itís even difficult to think of Earth Division as a companion piece, even if it is comprised of the LPís runoff. The EP sounds like it was being written all along, Mogwaiís adherence to chamber-driven melancholy fairly consistent while the band subtly adds its own touches. Earth Division is more interesting than satisfying, but itís difficult to dismiss its beauty and its reach past the bandís comfort level....full text
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