Since their inception, Mogwai have managed to exist as both a gold standard for instrumetal aficionados as well as a testimony to the importance of the spaces between sounds as something of a high art. And whatever either of those descriptive generalities might mean is most assuredly in the ears of the listener. So for a group whose eighth studio album evolves their own post-rock, no-vox muses, as Mogwai does on their chilled-out collection Rave Tapes, the tandem experience between listener and creator is ever-present, and far from ignorable.
Operating largely within the cascading melodramas you’ve come to expect—especially, perhaps, since the release of 2012’s Les Revenants, the soundtrack to the French television show of the same name—Mogwai’s nuanced focus is largely dependent upon the illusion of synthetic expansion rather than their trademarked barebones guitar-band meandering on Rave Tapes. Though that electronic dabbling may lurk in and out of the lion’s share of these songs, it’s not as if the band has hung up their space-y, drone-y roots.
Beginning with the sullen “Heard About You Last Night,” a symbiosis of the surreal takes form through atmospheric xylophones, slowly-plodding guitar lines and drawling drums. “Simon Ferocious,” the album’s second track, soon steers the more synth-electro bent of the record, releasing quaky bass lines and ambient Korgs to the forefront of the mix and offering a precursor to later songs like the Gary Numan-esque “Remurdered.”
The aural dichotomy isn’t exactly jarring, but it does represent a rabbit-hole type excursion for a band whose core audience runs the gamut from hardcore loyalist to electro-pop wax-scratcher. That written, Rave Tapes, as a concept, is to be taken in jest, despite the album’s excavation of pseudo-danceable wormholes of sound. If this collection were to be taken literally as rave-like tapes, what a dark, heavy dance party that’d be.
The band’s integration of kitschy audio samples resonates only once, on the drone-y “Repelish,” an oddly meditative number recounting the mythic Satanic messages being imprinted in reverse on “Stairway to Heaven.” The anecdotal jab jibes well within Mogwai’s tongue-in-cheek milieu, forging ironic and/or temporal slabs of nonsensical titles or wordplay. This, of course, is one of the band’s only vehicles through which to impart any linguistic message, and it works just as well as any other time they’ve employed it.
“The Lord is Out of Control,” the finale, lassos unintelligible, auto-tuned vocals through a gorgeous sort of industrial-pop composition that offers a fittingly baffling bookend to the album, driving home the fact that no matter what terrain Mogwai chooses to explore, it’s likely going to be a graceful, satisfying journey.