Kinda proving that 50 albums isn’t enough/this is fairly impossible because tastes and opinions are fluid, here’s something else I inexplicably missed. This was probably because there isn’t a full mogwai record that I believe to be perfect, more just a period between 1997 and 2003 where they just produced an incredible amount of high quality, beautiful and distinctive music. It’s often pretty difficult to pick between this, Young Team or Rock Action, let alone the wonderful Ten Rapid and EP+6 records because there is so much consistent quality over this era that it’s almost impossible to settle for just one.
I am however going to attempt to do that, and suggest that Come on Die Young or CODY is their most accomplished work. If nothing else, CODY has the consistent theme of being by far their darkest record, even if the artwork is a tongue-in-cheek take on black metal, the moody atmosphere they envisage is one of a endless winter. When at their peak, Mogwai’s incredible unique selling point is how timeless their music feels. I don’t mean this in the classical “this hasn’t aged at all” sense, even though that wouldn’t be wrong, but in the way that time seems to suspend when listening to a total jam or see them live; as if nothing else matters, even if the sound of the apocalypse is surrounding you.
On CODY, Mogwai create an unforgiving and unassuming mood which simply does not let up. It’s heartbreaking one-two opening punch of “Punk Rock:”/”CODY” set up a fairly brutal listening experience as you because enveloped in the layers of sound the band throw at you. One is often lulled into a false sense of security with Mogwai, but it doesn’t take long for the fear to set in. Really though, what makes CODY so special is the big pay-off, “Christmas Steps” which still remains the band’s finest achievement. A stunning, stark, emotional 10-minute ride which without a single work evokes so many images of snow-storms and violence and angst in the darkest part of the year.
In my 5 years of living in Glasgow, I have been very privileged to see Mogwai in a number of small and strange locations (and even got to record with their producer Andy Miller) and they never cease to amaze me or anyone else who happens to see them. There have been bountiful strong calls for Glasgow’s best band over the years, but nothing comes close for me to Mogwai, they are truly a heritage for this city and region.
The career trajectory of the Berkeley, California Why was a fairly incredible one. Yoni Wolf’s previous stage-name now meant a fully-fledged quartet, and this resulting album became the answer of a decade of incredible work. Emerged from the wonderfully enigmatic Anticon Records, who through it’s Californian community largely invented “alternative hip-hop” (though the East Coast’s Def Jux may have something to say about that) with it’s creative peak being Wolf’s previous band cLOUDDEAD. cLOUDDEAD didn’t actually release on Anticon despite being created completed by the members of the collective, but their two full-lengths and quick demise threatened a wider exposure for the label through it’s success.
Where cLOUDDEAD’s other orchestrator, Doseone, went on to create many great albums with his band Subtle, they never achieved anything quite like Why?’s Alopecia. The end of cLOUDDEAD largely predicted the end of Anticon’s creative peak and relevance, but their legacy lived on through Subtle and Why? who both realised their potential in the albums to come.
Why? as a full band’s debut Elephant Eyelash was an early indication. There, Wolf grew in (self-deprecating) confidence as a front man, and the band began to explore turning their already fascinating blend of experimental hip-hop and turning them into indie-pop songs akin to The Pastels or Beat Happening.
So when Alopecia finally dropped in 2008 (a long three year wait) it was an unprecedented landmark record. The band found the perfect blend between songs-manship, melody, catchy, witty rapping and more experimental structures to create a mini-masterpiece. 5 years on and every song on this record still sounds as fresh and vital as it did then, which is no small feat given the indie-community was still in it’s highest, most influential period (2003-08).
The run of opening songs in unheralded; “The Vowels; pt.2”, “Good Friday”, “These Few Presidents” and “The Hollows” nearly threaten to undermine the rest of the record, so top heavy it could be. But the record settles into a quieter groove as it goes on, and get’s no less impeccable in songs like “Fatalist Palmistry” or “Simon’s Dilemma”.
Alopecia’s legacy will run for some time, a record that has so far stood the test of time and only grown in reputation since the bands fairly disappointing follow ups. Truly, this is one of the best example’s of Indie’s dominance of the Naughties.