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Album review: Mogwai's 'Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will'

February 15, 2011 |  5:08 pm

MogwaiIf Mogwai hadn’t been inching toward experimental metal before, it is now. There still are uplifting hints of indie slow pop lurking around its seventh studio album, “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will,” the sort of requisite sounds one hears when watching TV dramas about football-playing teenagers in Texas or Prius commercials directed during the Obama campaign, but there are also brief glimpses of '70s sludge -- and it is refreshingly wonderful. As an instrumental band, it would only make sense that Mogwai would arrive here eventually. There is only so much strumming and twinkling an outfit can do before its needs to axe it up or fuzz it out.

It’s not that Glasgow’s Mogwai hasn't previously displayed diversity in its catalog, but the band hs never managed to not sound like a soundtrack for a space adventure movie. Mogwai has always resisted the conventional verse-chorus-verse trappings, but on “Hardcore,” there seems to be a much greater emphasis on structurally grounding the songs. A trail of bread crumbs keeps the listener from floating into space. The first single, “San Pedro,” for instance, starts with a guitar riff that, when left to its own devices, plays a sort of cat and mouse game with the winding melody underneath. From beginning to end, this one "wah wah wah" holds the thing, eventually building to a slow crescendo of drums and cymbals.

Also missing from this album is a certain heaviness that pervaded previous albums such as 2008's “The Hawk Is Howling,” in which songs such as “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” often set a somber, serious tone, even if not all the songs followed suit. On “Hardcore,” an album whose title suggests a return to the band's Fugazi-inspired roots, listeners will be surprised to find no such thing. Rather, “Hardcore” feels like a departure, a turning point for a band that has explored and mined most of the fantastic places its members can take us. For now, Mogwai is happy and ready to stay more firmly planted in the present and the physical. It’s a beautiful album, sure, but most important, it’s a fun one too.

-- Nikki Darling

Mogwai
“Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will”
Sub Pop
Three stars (out of four)

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