Mogwai – Earth Division

written by: September 23, 2011
Release Date: September 13th, 2011


The method of analysis known as titular criticism, the idea that objets d’art can be analyzed and interpreted via the titles the artists have given to their works, has always been a hit or miss concept, but certainly the Scottish “post-rock” ensemble Mogwai beg for such an approach.

Given that the group performs more than 95 percent instrumental music, it’s interesting that they’ve developed a penchant for seemingly ridiculous titles as “You’re Lionel Richie” (shudder), “A Cheery Wave from Stranded Youngsters,” “Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/Antichrist,” “Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep” (sic), “George Square Thatcher Death Party,”  and best of all, “Stupid Prick Gets Chased by the Police and Loses His Slut Girlfriend.”  To say these song titles have little to do with the songs themselves might seem an understatement; since there are rarely lyrics, it’s impossible to extrapolate the meaning of the title from its relation to the lyrics.

On their new EP, Earth Division, they follow up their most recent full-length record, the excellent Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, released this February, with explorations of the more orchestral leanings, and the lush, lyrical instrumentation for which they have become known. In many ways, the EP seems to start in media res, with a piano-based, orchestral pop approach.

The song titles here are not quite as nonsensical, and certainly not as “laugh out loud” funny, and it’s not as difficult to relate the titles to the songs themselves.

On “Get To France,” perhaps there is a musical affinity expressed with something not as grandiose as their usual approach; this track could be background music to Juliette Binoche wiping down the chocolate counter after hours in Chocolat. In addition, given their affinity for referencing geography in their titles as well, most notably on the previous record’s “Mexico City” and “San Pedro,” it’s possible that Mogwai’s reference to a trip to France in the title is deliberate.

“Hound of Winter” is another rare Mogwai song, not only in the accuracy of its title, but most notably in the presence of vocals. The lyrics, sung in wispy, almost “not there” tenor, contemplate the passage of time, to wit:  “Where does it go?”  The hound in the title represents the prospect of the coming season of death.

The next cut is such an abrupt shift, it seems almost …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead-like by comparison, or imagine if The Flaming Lips adopted the approach of Neil Young’s Trans. “Drunk and Crazy” begins with a return to post-rock territory, with distorted electronic rhythms that pummel like a rusted rake against a white picket fence, but at the same time wash in and out like ocean waves receding from the craggy cliffs of Scotland. When the strings come back in at the midpoint of the piece, they are a sonic rescue boat dispatched to rescue the orphans of the sea. In the end, the two sonic approaches become one and they unite to form a whirlpool, a maelstrom of swirling, pounding waves that suddenly dissipates and sinks into the sand.

“Does This Always Happen?” ponders the consequences of such a musical approach. It’s a lament, a requiem for music as it was and never shall be again. The song is propelled by a simple guitar part that repeats throughout like a Buzzcocks cut skipping on a record played at too slow a speed. “Don’t pick it up!  Don’t pick it up!,” it seems to say of this musical hot potato that could shimmer in the sun but spontaneously combust like a powder keg that was once held together by strings swaying lackadaisically. Admittedly, most of that menace is implied, but it’s the underlying tension that generates such beauty, not in the majestic sprawling way that Mogwai loyalists may have come to expect, but in an unassuming fashion, full of delicacy and subtlety.

Perhaps with the Earth Division EP, Mogwai are demarcating a division from their previous work and their future direction, but regardless, it functions as a suitable coda to Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.

Mogwai – Earth Division EP tracklist:

  1. “Get to France”
  2. “Hound of Winter”
  3. “Drunk and Crazy”
  4. “Does This Always Happen?”