Mogwai creates the type of music which evokes within the listener powerful memories of their most intense sensual experiences. The atmospheric blend of distorted sound, and harmonious melodies on both keyboard and guitar, is hypnotic, drawing one into a whirlwind of sonic emotions.
The Glasgow band has just released what must be called their first live album. Special Moves celebrates their 14th year in the business, packaging the album – which was recorded over 3 nights in Brooklyn – with a DVD of the same concert. Possibly the most gratifying element of this package is that it manages to avoid the common shortcoming of the ‘live’ album: that of being virtually unlistenable. Special Moves is all of Mogwai’s best, perfect in acoustics but for the ovation at the end of each song.
Mogwai are the masters of the post-rock style; defining a movement in which they are often forgotten. For the first time listener Special Moves acts as a perfect introduction to the band as Mogwai have collated a retrospective of all their best songs. Special Moves goes all the way back to their older, more acclaimed work, including at least one track from all six Mogwai albums, seamlessly fusing the old with the new. Indeed as an album, Special Moves, is structured in the same familiar, almost formulaic, composition as a Mogwai track, fluctuating between the more overpowering songs to those of a more delicate stature.
Mogwai is the aesthete’s dream. The sound oscillates between a cool summer evening, the vibrant scent of jasmine pervading the air, to dark pine trees outlined by an overcast sky, the wind picking up the promise of the storm which lingers on the horizon.
Accused by the ignorant as being noisemakers, Mogwai’s only crime is creating an instrumentalist sound so intense, it can make you bleed from both your ears and your eyes. There is a beauty in what they create; singular melodies explode to an overwhelming rush of noise, literally making you jump. From their 1997 debut album, Mogwai Fear Satan becomes so quiet that you are lulled into a sense of calm, literally being blown back from the catastrophic sound which so suddenly erupts.
Though Special Moves does not have the sense of exhaustion that is sometimes common within a concert performance, it also does not rely solely on energy. The exhilaration of the recording is infact produced by the pandemic of emotions inherent within the individual songs. The version of I Know You Are But What Am I is somewhat harsher than the original. The soundscape is rougher, drawing you even more contrarily into the tragedy and exuberance which coincide within the track.
The music washes over you. The explicitly simple 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong is as achingly beautiful as wind chimes gently ringing in the breeze. The music of Mogwai has the ability to fade into the background while also be the focal point of your attention. There is something both alluring and decidedly honest about not only the music but also the names of each song. The titles are inviting – the opener ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ just begs curiosity.
The accompanying film, Burning, was directed by La Blogotheque filmmakers Vincent Moon and Nathanel Le Scouarnec. Captured in high contrast black and white, the ambivalent nature of the film is perfectly suited to the sound of Mogwai. Like the almost lyric-free music of Mogwai, the silent film lets the visuals and music speak for themselves. The DVD mainly consists of live footage of the band, both on stage and while they walk around the audience at the venue. The soundtrack features eight tracks from the same trio of shows – however not all feature on the CD.
Interestingly, the name ‘Mogwai’ means ‘evil spirit’ or ‘devil’ in Cantonese - interestingly because there is undoubtedly something sinister about the music of this band. It is bewitching in its beauty – possessing the ability to both captivate and transfix the listener. However, though potentially dangerous, music this powerful can recreate vitality and meaning into the bleakest hour of any day. And Mogwai recorded live, is better than ever.
Highlights :: “Hunted By A Freak”, “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong” and "I'm Jim Morrison I'm Dead"