Mogwai - Rock ActionBack when Simon Reynolds coined the term “Post Rock” in his review of Bark Psychosis’ debut album ‘Hex’, Mogwai were still a mere glint in Glasgow’s underground rock eyes. “Post Rock” has of course become somewhat meaningless as a marker of left-field music. Today the optical wires are saturated with countless floaty instrumental guitar bands with overly emotive names whose music sounds as boring as Coldplay slowed down.

Mogwai too, it has to be said, have settled into some pretty comfy and safe sound-worlds in recent years. But back in 2000 they were still experimenting. And Rock Action is, in my opinion, one of the best Mogwai albums. Produced by Dave Fridmann of Mercury Rev, it sees the band expand their sonic palette way beyond the boundaries of instrumental guitar music.

Opening track ‘Sine Wave’ follows the usual Mogwai template of starting with subtlety and gradually increasing the intensity to the brink of noise, but does so entirely electronically. It’s the sound of dying machinery, a melancholy guitar figure singing out through the mechanical moans and clattering percussion.

‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ is, by contrast, fairly even in its dynamics. It’s one of their simpler songs yet also one of their most emotionally unsettling. It is also one of the few Mogwai tracks with distinguishable vocals. The heartstrings are tugged further by cool clear strings reminiscent of an early Scott Walker ballad.

‘Dial: Revenge’ has a haunted folky quality thanks in part to the plaintive Welsh vocals from Super Furry Animal’s Gruff Rhys. The word “dial” means “revenge” in the Welsh language and there is definitely something sinister lurking underneath the emotive strings and guitars. A hidden threat of potential violence just out of view.

On ‘You Don’t Know Jesus’ Mogwai return to the familiar slow-burning instrumental guitar rock that they had mastered on previous albums. The intensity is ramped up fairly swiftly and although darker in mood, this track pretty much reaches the frantic heights of ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ (from their 1997 debut Young Team). A second listen however, reveals sonic details more in keeping with the electronic treatments that glisten all over this album.

The closing track ‘Secret Pint’ is a beautifully crafted vignette of minimalism. A haunted folk song opens out into a crackly string quartet that sounds like a long lost message from outer space. Dead strings on air.

Rock Action is one of those perfectly formed records. Not too long, not too short. Daringly experimental yet effortlessly unpretentious. “Post Rock” was never a fixed style of music. It was simply a way to describe non-rock music made with rock music’s tools. It was never an excuse to make bland slow motion indie-slop for travel insurance adverts. In fact it never really existed, except in the mind of a music journalist.

‘Rock Action’ shows that one of Post Rock’s leading bands had way more ideas in their heads than the word ‘rock’ can contain.


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