Remember post-rock? Mogwai sure do, and fresh off the expanded reissue of 1997’s gut-busting debut Mogwai Young Team, Scotland’s moodiest sons return with another album of heady instrumental exploration. After toying with vocals and other new tricks over the past few records, The Hawk Is Howling finds the Glasgow band practicing the same sort of tidal shifts, chiming guitars, shadowy machinations and paranoid vibes as ever, along with another handful of smug song titles: “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead,” “I Love You, I’m Going to Blow Up Your School” and “Thank You Space Expert.”
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Still, Mogwai manage to introduce some eye-opening touches over the course of this molasses-thick hour of new music. “Scotland’s Shame” spikes the above template with a background squall of psych guitar, the slow-burning climax of “Danphe and the Brain” is augmented with quivering electronics, and a near-metal bodily assault closes the single “Batcat.” “Kings Meadow” is also pleasantly diverse, though more quietly so, and Andy Miller’s knowing production ensures that every moment feels deeply saturated.
The real triumph here is the seven-minute centerpiece, “The Sun Smells Too Loud,” steadily piling spongy atmosphere over an askew, transforming hook until the song feels like some lost Roxy Music instrumental. In parts, it’s almost—get this—dance-y, and though it still relies on repetition a bit too much, it’s the most interesting thing Mogwai have done in years. In fact, imagining an entire album of songs like this one somewhat lessens the final impact of The Hawk Is Howling.
But as Mogwai albums go, it’s assured and, for the most part, rewarding. As always with the band, patience is a prerequisite. In this case, so is a keen eye for detail—you’ll often need it to find the fleeting glints of variety in an increasingly familiar formula.