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Positive Feedback ISSUE 57
september/october 2011


Mogwai, Earth Division EP
by Michael Mercer



Sub Pop

Mogwai's Earth Division EP is aptly titled. The music flows, visually, like an audible accompaniment to a video shot using time elapse photography; the scene being that of many sunrises and sunsets over a mountain peak hovering over a winding river. Seriously, that may have sounded intensely reaching, pretentious, and cheesy all at the same time—but it's just what comes to mind when trying to paint an image of this music. Recently I was trying to describe Mogwai to a co-worker. He had never heard of them before, but is into all sorts of music—everything from classic rock to modern hip hop. I struggled for a few moments to find the right verbiage (and who's to say mine is right, but it's all I can do—so attention all you purists out there: I'm merely trying to act as a conduit here, a means of musical discovery, so forgive me if my words don't gel with your scholarly approximations). Sometimes, well, actually all the time that is the challenge: Finding the right words to describe a bit of music that truly moves you, especially music that feels unique and new but has a familiar flavor. The phrase I settled on was "mood music."

I told him that Mogwai's sounds (and bands like Mono) get you thinking without necessarily distracting you from whatever it is you are engaged in while you're listening to it. It's like a sonic backdrop with soul, far beyond the dulling sounds of muzak or other elevator music that makes you want to shoot yourself out of boredom. This is music for libraries full of forward-thinkers, stoners, and intellectuals alike. They combine simple yet poignant compositions, framing them with just the right amount of noise to set them apart from other instrumental acts. They definitely have a signature all their own, and usually a person either loves them or hates them. It's rare that you'd find somebody who says Mogwai are just "ok."

The Earth Division EP contains moments of a welcome musical departure for the band, including more orchestral arrangements that are stripped down and eloquent. They seem to have mastered the art of creating a full sound without crowding the soundstage. Each note sways and flows beautifully, forming a sense of space that is delightful to bask in after a long days work. "Get to France", the EP's opening track, is a fine example of this lush spaciousness. They sound more like Mojave 3 here than Mono, with emphasis on the notes themselves rather than the effects surrounding them in order to create a sense of depth. "Drunk and Crazy" sounds almost exactly like its title. Imagine coming home following the after-party and turning on some hard music by mistake, when you intended to put in a chill-out mix. This song gives me that feeling of duality inside. It sounds coarse but has a mellow groove, which evokes emotion through the blending of those structural opposites. The strings on "Does This Always Happen" are haunting and sparse, yet heavy. Mogwai create amazing melodic contrasts that often result in compositions that are perfect for dramatic films. They capture emotion (usually darker) in a chilling way, and it's engrossing to listen to.

Earth Division EP is masterful, but it's a tease. You get a supple taste of this broad new musical territory for Mogwai and you're left wanting more. Perhaps this move is intentional, leaving fans drooling for more. I know I'm waiting like a junkie for their next release as the result of the time I've spend with this record. Sound like a recommendation? Then you got the message.