Some bands take a while to find their footing, but Mogwai arrived on the scene fully formed back in the 90s, helping define the post-rock genre with their debut, Young Team. The question is, where do they go from there? Perform a stylistic about-face like Radiohead did with Kid A? Or, like AC/DC, just re-record the same album over and over again? The answer is this: do neither. Since then, Mogwai have explored every potential variation on the themes laid out in their debut, slowly and subtly developing and adding to their sound.
HWNDBYW, the band’s seventh album, starts awkwardly with “White Noise,” which – pretty as it is – sounds like the theme music to a BBC wildlife documentary. Things improve on the next track, “Mexican Grand Prix”, as they employ elements of electro and end up sounding a lot like Trans Am, which isn’t a bad thing. Tracks “San Pedro” and “George Square Thatcher Death Party” are uncharacteristically upbeat and almost cheerful in tone, the former’s melody reminiscent of a Johnny Marr or Peter Buck guitar motif. Elsewhere on the album, cuts like “Death Rays,” “How to Be a Werewolf” and “You’re Lionel Richie” utilise the rather hackneyed “quiet/loud/quiet” formula, albeit in a less obvious and more adept manner than many of their post-rock peers.
Above all else, this album reiterates Mogwai’s talent for creating powerfully evocative music that is both ecstatic and life-affirming and gut-wrenchingly sad. Though this emotional resonance roots their music in the human experience, the music’s generally instrumental approach invites the listener to follow their imaginations beyond the concerns of the self and find transcendence in its dynamic shifts and sweeping, panoramic melodies.