Mogwai, ‘Atomic’ review

Forgery-proof is one of the best adjectives I’ve heard used to describe Mogwai, Glasgow’s incontestable post-rock pioneers. Having created and shaped a signature sound that is so much their own, a Frankenstein’s monster of celestial, cinematic beauty, imitators run rather than shy away.

With ‘Atomic’, regarded as their ninth album ‘proper’, the band conjure up 48 mins of aural stimulus that has the supreme quality of sonically contextualising its subject matter, the nuclear age.

The ten songs here mirror a journey from feat to the grandiose, the angry to the melancholic, as the band bear the fruits of a pursuit towards an unexpected, yet thoroughly welcome, electronic and synth sound, set against the visual narrative of Marc Cousin’s bold documentary; images of MRI scans and X-rays juxtaposed with Hiroshima, Chernobyl and the horrors of nuclear devastation.

It’s high praise indeed that the band, who, being fully aware of their own proximity to Faslane submarine base and long-time CND supporters, are able to, through the power of their music, craft a sense of scrutiny and contemplation of the nuclear age that oscillates between reverence towards the immense change to our lives against the power of destruction it has brought on us.

As regards to soundtrack duties, we know before a ball is kicked that we are in safe hands, with ‘Atomic’ coming off the back of the majestic artistry that was 2006’s Zidane: a 21ST Century Portrait and the enduring, haunting score for French zombie noir show Les Revenants in 2013.

Stuart Braithwaite’s scything guitar talus –so much part of the Mogwai sound – takes a back seat as buzzing synths and electronic touches, backed by brooding percussion, populate the 10 tracks that make up ‘Atomic’, from the glittering, hopeful opener ‘Ether’ (with French horn added to the mix), through to the solemn, pondering piano infused ‘Fat Man’.

SCRAM sees Berlin based Barry Burns’s vintage synth tones come alive to dystopian, kaleidoscopic effect, while the thick, powerful waves of the stunning ‘Bitterness Centrifuge’ embody a soaring, siren-like feel.

The equally impressive follow up ‘U-235’ (the chemical term for uranium) sees the band verge into broody electro-Kraut dream pop, sharply contrasted with the death march drone of Pripyat.

The ominous quality and feel continues with ‘Weak Force’ and ‘Little Boy’, seeing the band emanate a bleak, muted and moody sound reminiscent of a John Carpenter theme before ‘Are You A Dancer?’ and ‘Tzar’ return us to territory not to distant from Mogwai’s post-rock roots – the former’s hauntingly beautiful violin rendering it a highlight on the album.

Atomic further reinforces the capacity Mogwai have to create sonic soundscapes that permits for a measured introspection the likes of which only Mogwai can do. A band who, just shy of 21 years together, maintain a level of experimentation and exploration of new sounds that underscore their superlative musicianship, one which reiterates something we have known for years, that Mogwai are masters of their art.

Interview with Graeme Park, Hacienda.

The very mention of the word ‘Hacienda’ conjures up images of maverick, heady, acid house and rave anthems and sweaty, drug-fuelled hedonism, the likes of which spawned a seismic musical and cultural shift in the UK, backed by the likes of New Order and Factory Records. 

 For those who weren’t lucky enough to ever find ourselves in the Manchester club, which endured for a fifteen year period from 1982-1997, what we are left with is the music; music that to this day endures.

 In a welcome celebration of the legendary club’s impact on the British cultural and musical landscape, veteran house DJ’s and regular visitors to the former venue, Graeme Park and Mike Pickering (also of M People fame), spoke to us about their new venture, ‘Hacienda Classical’.

 In conjunction with the Manchester Camerata experimental orchestra, and made possible by famed composer/arranger Tim Cooks, ‘Hacienda Classical’ offers a unique take on the ‘Madchester’ spirit and vibe, bringing together two polar opposite worlds in classical music and acid house in a joyous celebration that represents more than a thoroughly fitting homage to the venue.

 After the curtain came down on two opening nights in Manchester, alongside a celebrated night at London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall, the 22nd of April will see Glasgow graced with the presence of Park and Pickering, both living legends of the ‘Madchester’ scene; a date that they cannot wait to appear on their horizon.

 “I feel quite good about it as the first two were very nerve racking. With Manchester being haciendas home we were very very nervous about it. The Royal Albert Hall. That was just the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my life. It exceeded our expectations immensely,” says Graeme.

Before Mike adds, “The response has been pretty incredible. The first show took us by surprise a bit. It was very raucous, like a celebration really. We are on a role now. “

 Musically the event is an extremely audacious one; one which combines not only two totally different styles of music, but also two different concepts and methodologies as to preparing and performing. 

That said, both Graeme and Mike were in no doubt as to the project’s success, especially considering the enthusiasm that the orchestra have shown in working with them.

The orchestra just get on with it and everyone else, me, Mike, Peter Hook and Rowetta (Satchell) very so relaxed. We knew it was going to work and we knew what worked and what didn’t work,” says Graeme.

 “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. We first of all had to choose the songs then make a score out the DJ mix then we had to produce a lot of the electronic elements, the stuff the orchestra can’t do, then of course we had to work out how you get the orchestra to play along to an electronic backing track, and how of course you do ‘Blue Monday’ with an orchestra.”

 “I can’t praise the Manchester Camerata enough, at no point has anyone said this is bollocks. You’ve got young women playing violins right through to older men playing bassoons and older than me and they are all loving it, they’ve all got massive smiles on their faces.”

 And, according to both Graeme and Mike, the decision to create the event was born out of the strength of the Hacienda brand, and the continued symbolism and iconic status afforded to a movement that has survived the closure of the venue itself nearly 20 years ago.

 “Its just a nice idea, people who went to the Hacienda are now in their 40s, so this is a cool kind of way to celebrate that. There’s only so many times you can do a pill and stand in a sweatbox, you know, people move on, so this just seems a very nice thing to do,” confirms Mike.

 “We still do club nights and one thing we have noticed in the past three years, the crowds re getting younger. It has such a heritage and history. That a lot of people who are too young to have gone to the Hacienda they want to experience it for themselves,” says Graeme.

“Someone said to me and said, ‘What about doing a classical concert?’ and everyone said ‘What a fucking great idea’.  One of the reasons that we came up with the idea is that Hacienda has always been at the front of club culture. It was the first club to play acid house and it was kind of the roots of the British dance explosion.”

Asked what the people of Glasgow, and Scotland, can expect from the event, both are certainly hopeful that it will be an event that will live long in the memory, especially from Aberdeen native Graeme.

 As someone who is from Scotland I am particularly excited about playing at the Hydro. You always get a good response from Scottish crowds and particularly Glasgow crowds. A Scottish crowd is hard to beat on an enthusiastic front. And I have my mum and dad coming to it.

 “They can expect an amazing atmosphere and expect to be surrounded by people with massive grins on their faces and you can expect to be taken on a journey through house that is like no journey you have ever taken before. When u hear a massive string section playing the bass bottom end of Robert Owen’s “I’ll Be Your Friendit’s just hairs on the back of your neck stuff.”

 Before Mike concludes, “It’s a euphoric celebration. That’s the best way to put it. From the first notes people are up and just loving it.  I’d be surprised knowing Glasgow and knowing Scotland if there’s many people sat down from beginning to end. I’d be very disappointed if they are.”

 

Frightened Rabbit, ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’ review

Sometimes – especially in Scotland – life has a way of reminding you that everything isn’t all smiles, sunshine and unreserved romance, and that to that effect, Frightened Rabbit serve a purpose like no other band.

As veritable champions of their own brand of ‘healer-rock’, the band, backed by Scott Hutchison’s reflective, tormented internal monologue, craft a blend of melancholic woe and optimistic splendour that washes down like a sweet, warming malt whisky.

With their fifth studio album ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’, produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner (Sharron Van Etton, Local Natives) in New York, Frightened Rabbit release their most challenging, mature and immediate album to date.

Hutchison’s adroit, cathartic lyricism remains present as homage is paid to familiar themes of religion, sobriety and breakups, although disappointingly scarce is the astute wit of previous releases.

Small matters aside, there’s a distinct, welcome shift musically, as explosive soundscapes marry up against folk-tinged acoustic laments to splendid effect.

With former touring guitarist Simon Liddell replacing Gordon Skene, his presence, whether subconsciously or not, has pointed the band towards a more layered, dream-like vista, with walls of fuzzy, distorted noise, electronic touches and sharp drum loops opening the floodgates to a more expansive sound that adds superimposes more colour to the otherwise grey.

The almost dance-like, brooding, synth-driven ‘Woke up Hurting’ and haunting, dark ‘Lump Street’ best evoke this impression, with the latter’s dystopian feel far removed from any Frightened Rabbit work to date.

The solemn, piano-based Opener ‘Death Dream’ sets an early marker of tone, as a chorus of ‘You died in your sleep last night’ finds the accompaniment of ambient instrumentals and brass flourishes, a feat repeated later on with the majestic, ukulele-tinged ‘Little Drum’.

The flawless ‘Get Out’ and its ode to the consuming addictiveness of love sparks the album fully to life, followed by the rhythmic, meaty ‘Wish I Was Sober’.

Hutchison’s anxious, anthemic vocals take centre on ‘Still Want To Be Here’ as he sings “Junk fiends dance at the bus stop next to the rodeo clowns… But I still want to be here,” sings Hutchison in “Still Want to be Here”, while album highlight ‘Break’ adds formidable layers of pounding percussion and scything, fuzzy licks of guitar.

Following this is the morbid love ballad ‘400 Bones’, before the acoustic-guitar driven, tavern-esque lament of ‘Die Like A Rich Boy’ ends the album with a soaring ode to hydrocodone dreams and switchblades.

With ‘Painting Of A Panic Attack’, Frightened Rabbit’s pursuit of a more musically expansive, synth-backed sound marks a change from ‘Pedestrian Verse’, one which allows for diverse flirtations against the introspective melancholy and unbridled optimism that Hutchison’ lyrics offer. One that ultimately pays off.

Roman Nose, ‘Jacked Up On Mercy’ review

Glaswegian finest purveyors of sadomasochistic, sample heavy Lucha Libre masked electronica, Roman Noise, are returning to our radars with the release of much anticipated E.P. ‘Jacked Up On Mercy’, via their own Badly Built Records label.

Set to be the first of three scheduled E.P. releases this year, the trio return after an 18 month musical exile, hoping to build on the successes that has seen them supporting the likes of 2 Many DJs and LA electro veterans The Glitch Mob.

Known for their high energy and multi-sensory live shows, Roman Noise feel part Machines In Heaven, part Crash Club, with their bass-heavy, dark brand of electronic music dipped in futuristic Tron territory, drawing with it an obvious Daft Punk (before they got shit) ambience, most notably so on the outstanding ‘Black Pope’.

Opener ‘Bloodstains’ is an unremitting tour-de-fource that delights from the get go, as wave after wave of pounding synths and driven electro beats instantly render Roman Noise’s lengthy absence forgotten.

Effervescent follow-up ‘Agoraphobic’ expands further into welcome tech-electro landscapes, as menacing, murky synths trade blows against recurrent samples and pulsating drums.

Black Pope starts as a subaquatic electro baptism of sorts, with ethereal synth sounds giving way to full on wall of throbbing synths that wouldn’t look out of place sandwiched in between Phantom Parts 1 and 2 on Justices ‘Cross’ album.

The majestic, explosive ‘Solid Gold’ finishes the E.P. off on a high note, one which, with two more on the way in 2016, fully augments the appetite for hearing, and hopefully seeing, plenty more of Roman Noise in the not too distant future.

Stay, ‘The Mean Solar Times’ review

Fans of Oasis and Beady Eye may be interested to hear ‘The Mean Solar Times’ by Barcelona psychedelic rockers Stay, given Andy Bell’s contribution to three songs on the album.

Released through Minneapolis label ‘Picture in my Ear’, and featuring Britpop guru Owen Morris (Oasis/The Verve) on production duties, the 5th studio album from the Catalans is a rich and potent mix of 70’s psychedelia, 90’s Britpop, oriental and funk influences, intensified by frontman Jordi Bel’s youthful vocals.

Having gained something of a cult following in their native Spain, the band have carved out a niche as one of the go to support acts around, opening for the likes of Ocean Colour Scene, Beady Eye and The Pretty Things, as well as appearing at festivals such as Primavera Sound in their home city.  

Vintage tones, resplendent melodies, intricate instrumentals and organ-guitar interplay draw obvious comparisons with the likes of Big Star, Traffic and The Charlatans, as the band meander from the slow, jovial and intricate to the heavy, emotionally enveloping, demonstrating a flair and character that places above the level of simple pastiche.

Opener ‘Pinkman’, with Bell on guitar, sounds distinctly Charlatansesque, with brooding basslines, abrasive guitar hooks and a healthy dose of organs, sitars and soaring melodies, with the brief burst of flamenco guitar for good measure.

Follow up ‘Always Here’ is a sparkling wedge of feel good summery indie pop, while ‘Smiling Faces’ continues the winning formula first evoked in ‘Pinkman’ – layered guitars, melodies and anthemic soundscapes.

The glossy, merry ‘You Know It’s Right’ and ‘Shake The Sun’ could both have been lifted from Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Bandwagonesque’, while the frenetic, trippy ‘Mind-Blowing’ juxtaposes in a 6 minute wall of clashing sitars and organs.

While falling a yard or two short or true originality, ‘The Mean Solar Times’ is still a consistent, solid effort from Stay who, through a combination of strong musicianship, layered sounds and sweet harmonies, no doubt permits the band to remain flagbearers of the Spanish, Brit pop influenced indie kitsch sound for some time to come.

Mogwai and Me

I’m not really sure when, or where I first heard Mogwai. I’d been aware of them for a few years without really paying much attention. More than anything, I remember seeing the name on a t-shirt at Connect Festival in Inverary, Scotland, back in 2007. Everyone wearing ‘Blur are Shite’ across their chest had me wondering. I’d heard of the band, but I hadn’t heard them.

MOGWAI 2

This was when my musical diet consisted of pure guitar driven indie pop, bands such as Interpol, The Horrors, Arctic Monkeys, Kings of Leon and Arcade Fire. Stable bands that soundtracked your Saturday nights on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.

I can’t even remember if I caught much or any of their set that night as I waited for Bobby Gillespie’s Primal Scream to churn out the hits to the thousands gathered at the foot of the castle. But I returned to Glasgow with the idea that instrumental music wasn’t just shite like Robert Miles’s Children or Daft Punk’s ‘Da Funk’ – a song I heard play for 36 hours on repeat on a school ski trip to France.

I think it was around that time that I saw ‘Zidane – a 21st century portrait’, with my brother Mike and pal Andy at the GFT cinema. A massive Spanish football fan, I was surprised to hear that Zidane had took part in a film, and even more so when I realized it was done by artist Douglas Gordon, who hailed from the same neck of the woods as me, Maryhill in Glasgow.

mogwai 3

To say I was spellbound was an understatement, sitting there chewing on some sweets while watching the elegance of the world’s greatest ever footballer digging his boots into the turf, all while backed by Mogwai’s shimmering, wonderous soundtrack. I remember leaving the cinema feeling drunk and a tad high after such a visual, aural spectacle. I was Mogwai’d up, well and truly.

With the release of Hawk is Howling in September 2008, songs such as ‘Batcat’, ‘the Sun Smells Too Loud’ and the ridiculously epic “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ became fully ingrained parts of my daily routine, songs which transported me away from the inhumane existence that was working for a home insurance firm in a call centre in Glasgow.

Around this time, my brother jumped ship from Scotland and moved over to Italy to work as an English language assistant in the small town of Ferrara near Bologna. Not knowing anyone, or any Italian, his first conversation with a local said a lot about a yet unknown quantity for me, Mogwai’s level of support abroad.

A guy in bar asked Mike where he was from. “Glasgow”. “Glasgow ?,” replied the Italian dude. “Mogwai – our generation’s Pink Floyd.”

Jump forward to February 2011, and the release of Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’. After taking a call from an old Spanish guy called Manolo in a broom cupboard in Macsorley’s Bar one Friday afternoon, I quit my job and rented out my flat to move over to Northern Spain to teach English – copying my brother in doing so.

mogwai 4

I got a job teaching English in an after school academy in the evenings, while during the day I taught the staff at the Bayer pharmaceutical factory in the town of La Felguera – the factory that produces 100% of the active ingredient for all the world’s aspirin. It’s maze of steel tubes and chimneys dominating the skyline, giving the provincial, stereotypical Spanish non-descript town a heavy Blade Runner feel.

Turned out the slow walk along the river there and back to my flat took me around 50 mins, around about the same time it took me to listen to Hardcore…in its entirety. And listen to it I did. For some reason my Ipod shuffle broke after I downloaded the album, so I only had that album on it.

lada

For a full school calendar year, maybe two – September to June – I walked down the Nalon river in the mining valley of Central Asturias to and from the aspirin factory with Mogwai as my guide. I was in another place – far from the abandoned steel towers and mining industry relics surrounding me as ‘Rano Pano’ and ‘How To Be A Werewolf’ kicked in.

Still having not seen them fully in concert, I was gutted to be back home in Glasgow that August when Mogwai headlined a festival barely 20 miles away from where I stayed, in the seaside city of Gijon, in the grounds of La Laboral – Franco’s mega technical college complex and amazing place for a concert.

For that, I had to wait until June last year, when Mogwai put on two shows to celebrate their twentieth anniversary in Glasgow, after missing their concerts at the Royal Concert Hall and and Richmond Park in 2014. And what better place to see them than a Saturday night at the Barrowlands – one of, if not the, best venue in the country.

barras

And it was tremendous. Ear-bleedingly loud. And as the band worked their way through an extensive back catalogue, I was glad to be in the position to have become well versed in most of their albums to date, as opposed to just the material they released post 2007.

Not long after the shows, I bumped into Stuart from the band about 2 am one Saturday night on Byres Road. After a brief stop and chat he gave me his email address, so I could arrange an interview for music website/podcast Scottish Fiction. A week later, I sat down with Stuart and had a blast discussing the band’s 20 years together and their plans for going forward.

sara

With me was my Spanish pal Sara, a Mogwai fanatic herself, who, being her last ever day living in Glasgow, I thought would appreciate sharing a beer with Stuart. Although that day for her she recalls as being both the best and worst in her three years living there, as, moments before the interview while waiting for me outside Tennents bar in the West End, a nutjob ran out brandishing a kitchen knife and threatened her. Such is life in Glasgow. One moment running the risk of a hospital visit, the other having a drink with your musical hero in a reformed Church.

das

After visiting Barry from Mogwai’s pub, Das Gift, in Berlin while I was there a few times earlier on this year, it was nice to meet the man behind both the world’s best Twitter account and best jukebox in Germany. And as the band geared up to release Atomic, I sat down with Stuart once again to talk about it over a beer in Glasgow’s West End.

This time in less cosmopolitan company with my brother, a conversation had between Stuart, my brother and Paul from Franz Ferdinand at Christmas time during their DJ set in a Glasgow pub played itself out before our eyes. With Franz having played a few gigs in the Italian town my brother called home, Stuart mentioned that he’d be up for playing at the same place with Mogwai.

 

ferrar

Cue a number of emails from my brother to the organizers, telling them to get Mogwai onto the bill, and during the interview Stuart got a message on his phone confirming the date. Ferrara, Italy, July 2016.

Well I couldn’t not go could aye? So here I am, drunk as hell, in my brothers flat. Earlier tonight Mogwai played what was regarded as the best concert in the town’s musical history, to a crowd of 1500 people next to the castle, performing their soundtrack to the documentary film ‘Atomic’ while it played on the screen behind them.

Mogwai-Atomic

The post gig Laphroig whisky with the band backstage in their dressing room went down pretty well, discussing Glasgow’s best curry house, as I cast my mind back to nine years earlier and the ‘Blur are Shite’ t-shirt in Inverary. Funny how things play themselves out.

Cheers Mogwai.

Your music has taken me somewhere nice, more so than any other band out there. And I hope it continues to do so.