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These days - when membership of the rock army can be symbolised by the simple purchase of a Ramones T-shirt - dedication has become a debased currency, subject to the hyper-inflationary dictates of fashion. Raw recruits sign up for the short term, soon surrendering their affections to whichever sexy "scene" might spring up next. Unswerving commitment to rock's righteous cause is rare; it demands a troop of seriously single-minded dudes with their collective heart and soul fixed on one goal - to bring the noise.
Scottish five piece Mogwai formed in 1995 and debuted a year later with the single "Tuner/Lower", released on their own Rock Action label. They've since gone on to develop their distinctive style of apocalyptic, yet deeply humanised noise across four albums, establishing the transcendentally effective quiet-loud/quiet-loud dynamic as their very own and spawning a generation of imitators. Usually tagged a post-rock band because of their slow-build, instrumental workouts and the neo-classical majesty of their more ambitious songs, Mogwai are rather a bunch of a-rockers, drawn to whatever serves their cause - be it the stripped-down delicacy of Erik Satie or the boiling rage of Big Black. Mix light and dark together, Mogwai understand, and you make magic.
"Mr Beast" is the band's fifth studio album and, as the title suggests, sees them returning to their first, true love - Rock with a capital "R" - after using a softer palette with more varied instrumentation for album number three ("Rock Action") and delivering a balanced summary of their work to date with 2003's "Happy Songs For Happy People". Mogwai of course, make their own rules in order to break them, so, alongside huge blocks of thrillingly implacable guitar noise, "Mr Beast" features exquisitely poignant piano passages (most of them played by keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Barry Burns) and great, limpid spaces.
Guitarist/vocalist Stuart Braithwaite explains the album's impetus thus: "We consciously tried to have some louder music on this album, because we had begun to realise that there was a big difference between our live shows and our records, and there was no real reason for that. We wanted to make a record that we were going to enjoy playing live, because when we're on stage, we like the songs where we're really going for it more than the ones where we're just kind of plinking away.
"The quiet-loud/quiet-loud formula that was our trademark became pretty clichéd," he adds, "and also a lot of other people started doing it, so we consciously tried to stop. Not that we invented it, but it got to the point where people thought that was all we did, plus we were getting tired of it ourselves. We'd taken it to extremes on songs like "Like Herod" [from 1997's Mogwai "Young Team"] and we thought there wasn't much further we could go with it. What we ended up doing then was being really quiet and minimal, but later we realised that we really missed making a lot of noise! Now felt like a good time to get back to that, because in a way, it's what started the band. Although only about 25 per cent of the new album is actually noise, that's the one thing we consciously had in mind when we set out."
Recorded between April and October 2005 in the band's own Castle Of Doom studios in Glasgow, "Mr Beast" was produced by Tony Doogan, who also produced "Happy Songs. . ." and was the engineer on "Rock Action". It opens with "Auto Rock" - whose sweetly melancholic, central piano motif is gradually engulfed by a swell of fulsome guitars and pummelling drum beats - and closes with lurching, psych-rock behemoth "We're No Here" (sic). In between are eight future Mogwai classics, including the heads-down "Glasgow Mega-Snake", where what must surely be a dozen guitars swarm around a molten metal core like crazed killer bees, the drum machine-driven country gospel of "Acid Food," which features pedal-steel guitar, the wintry splendour of "Friend Of The Night" and the impossibly poignant "I Chose Horses," featuring guest vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa (of Japanese hardcore band Envy) and a keyboard contribution from composer/arranger Craig Armstrong. Whether light and lean or dark and monstrous, however, these songs underline Mogwai's belief that to have meaning, rock needs both mass and monumentality. If "Mr Beast" has one thing, it's presence.
"I like music that has weight," admits Braithwaite, "even if it's not sound weight. If I think of a really 'heavy' record, I think of 'Songs Of Love And Hate' by Leonard Cohen as much as I think of the latest record by Sunn O))). It is a bit weird when people think our music is depressing, because I find bad music depressing and we all think sad music is incredibly uplifting. Even if a piece of music is melancholic, if it makes you think, or has some weight to it, then I find that really uplifting. It's like seeing a beautiful painting - it makes your day a bit better."
Of Mogwai's continued interest in pushing their own parameters, Braithwaite declares, "We didn't want to be a band that made a few good records and then made a series of increasingly shitty ones that were like fading photocopies of the earlier records. I've seen that happen a lot of times. The fact is, none of us can do anything else - it's not like we dropped out of architecture school and can go back to it one day! We knew we were in this for the long haul and we knew we wanted to be making worthwhile, important music until the day our hands stop working, so it serves our purpose to challenge ourselves, on every level."
The beauty expressed by "Mr Beast" is the sound of those challenges being met - fearlessly. As to the noise, it's Mogwai's design for life.