Tenth studio album from Glasgow, Scotland’s Mogwai sees the band break new ground whilst retaining what makes them the revered band they are. Simon Tucker reviews.
Released: 19th February 2021
Label: Rock Action Records
“Trump acquitted!” flashes up on my phone. It doesn’t matter. Further messages all filter through each one filled with the inherent depression and disbelief that has been our internal settings for a long while now..it doesn’t matter. Why? Well because right at the time the GOP was bending in all manner of shapes to protect their own incomes I was three-quarters of the way through Mogwai’s recorded gig at Glasgow’s Tramway venue and nothing from the outside world was going to penetrate the sheer sense of wonder and joy I was soaking up.
I had been living with the band’s tenth album As The Love Continues for a week or so and knew I was in for a special evening. The reason? Well, Mogwai’s latest was their most optimistic and comforting release to date. It’s rippling melodies and shifting styles had served as a psychic balm and it was happening outside of its walls simply did not matter.
When the world was flipped on its head last year Mogwai was, like everyone else, forced into a change of plans. Due to fly to America to record the follow up to 2017’s Every Country’s Son, the band instead relocated to Worcestershire with producer Dave Fridmann staying in the States and working remotely via video link. All of this added to a rising death toll and the lack of support for their industry could have made As The Love Continues a disjointed work and seen the band reach back to their heavier days making their ‘pandemic album’ – all darkness and oppression.
Instead what we are presented with here is a beautifully coherent album that manages to push the music of Mogwai further into new territories whilst retaining their core ideals. It really is a joy to see a band this far along still manage this balancing act of progression and tradition, a balancing act only a few bands have ever managed.
When writing this review I notice that it is ten years to the day that the band released Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will and this feels an important point to reflect on as listening back to that album now it really feels like the moment Mogwai made a distinct shift from their younger selves and began their transition into the band that they have become. Electronics mixing with guitars and a light that shimmies over their songs culminating in the sunshine that is As The Love Continues.
The way that album opener To The Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth has a deep and ominous pulse married to a melody that sneaks into your brain via piano and guitar before unfurling on a bank of joyous noise signals the way we are going to be led. It is a hybrid of comfort and melancholy that thematically runs throughout the album and an emotional hook that catches you instantly allowing the rest of the album to dance around these conflicting feelings. Highlighting this balance further is Here We, Here We, Here We Go Forever which manages to sound like the ultimate marriage of the traditional with the futuristic. It is placed early in the running order of the album and for good reason as this is where we truly take off allowing a smile to cross your face. Dopamine drips out of your speakers. I wasn’t expecting this.
You would have heard Dry Fantasy and Richie Sacramento with the former falling into what could be described as the now ‘classic’ Mogwai sound. Dry Fantasy is familiar in its execution but never once sounds tired or a lazy retreading of old ground. It feels right…it feels like Mogwai. Marry this with Richie Sacramento which allows the band to let loose and for Stuart Braithwaite to sing pure and true, not hidden under the effects of the vocoder. You get a one-two pairing that the casual listeners of Mogwai will recognise, pleasing them and die-hard alike. The best part is this is only just the beginning as from here on in As The Love Continues just gets better.
Dry The Nail allows drummer Martin Bulloch to take centre stage early on before the banks of guitars show us that Mogwai is still unafraid to swarm the listener with walls of sound. They may be making more textural and smoother music these days but they still have plenty of bark and bite. Fuck Off Money is a sucker punch of a song as it lulls you into a belief that you are to be presented with a certain side of the band before it explodes into a firework display of colours making it one of the most surprising and effective songs on the album. Then the swerve…
Ceiling Granny is an unexpected yet delightful turn in to the realm of a more classic kind of guitar rock. When the band aired it as part of the stream, my brother Matthew (a huge Mogwai fan) messaged me to say how much the song reminded him of Smashing Pumpkins which is a very fair comparison as the song does feel part of that lineage; a line that starts with the band’s beloved Cure and draws through 90’s Alt Rock. If the band are willing to swerve in such a way then where are we headed next?
The answer is to Midnight Flit a song that will easily fast track it’s way into the upper echelons of great Mogwai tracks. Featuring composer and NIN member Atticus Ross, Midnight Flit is the true heart of As The Love Continues. It is a song that is steeped in the deepest emotions. A song to smile at as you cry. A release valve for any emotions you may have been holding in. Here is music as catharsis. Midnight Flit soars and soars climbing further and further to the stars. Mogwai has, throughout their career, managed moments of beauty but this feels like their purest and most emotive song to date. An anthem for our current times. Heartbreaking and healing all at once. Take a breath before you continue.
Following Midnight Flit isn’t an easy task. Will this be the dip? The comedown? Push that thought to one side because the band returns us to the ground with a familiar guitars/drums/keyboard sound that waltzes around you allowing you to catch your breath before the introduction of Colin Stetson on saxophone suddenly adds an otherworldly element that is pure fantasy. Before you know it the band and Stetson have lifted your feet back off the ground again, dancing in mid-air. The world may be in turmoil right now but that doesn’t mean we can’t dream of reaching the clouds or moving our bodies in time to a music that seems to cut right through to your very essence right? Remember being lost in the company of others? Free and empowered. Pat Stains is the sound of light entering our world again. Its main guitar motif acknowledges the sadness we have suffered but the rest of the frame tells us to put one foot in front of the other. Better days lie ahead.
As we approach the end of the album Mogwai once again decide to grab us by the arm and tell us things are going to be ok with the band driving themselves into the territory of Neu! with Supposedly, We Were Nightmares: a song that is sheer abandon and (am I allowed to say this in the buttoned-up world of guitar rock?) FUN! A song built from a place of happiness and joy. This serves as a nice moment of lightheartedness before the album ends with It’s What I Want To Do, Mum: a song that returns you to a more serious place than where we have been but is never dour or grey. It’s What I Want To Do, Mum closes the album with a heaviness of sound whilst still retaining the album’s sense of optimism and hope.
There are many sides to Mogwai these days. The scores vary from the studio albums. The studio albums vary from each other. They are heavy, they are light. They can pin you to the wall or they can sing lullabies. Yet still, they remain themselves.
As The Love Continues feels like a type of culmination of where the band has been heading over their last few studio albums. It is an album that feels more coherent and bolder than its predecessor Every Country’s Son. The album feels like it contains an overarching narrative in which lies hope, love and positivity. Mogwai has always been good at tapping into a listener’s emotions with their music but with this album, they not only reflect how many of us are feeling but also offer us a way out – an arm around the shoulder, a catch up over a pint. A friend for many detached from their families and friends psychically. Here is an album drenched in melodies that you will hum for days afterward. Many beautiful lullabies.
A high watermark in a career full of them. This is the album we need right now made by a band who even now have wonderful tricks up their sleeves. Essential
Check out Pat Stains here: