Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Like a lot of indie-rock acts, Mogwai often mistakes extreme volume shifts for dynamics. This approach sometimes makes for a fine experience live, when the group can instantly travel from a whisper to a visceral, roaring vortex of feedback, but the Scottish band's records have suffered from a simple lack of songs: It just doesn't write them. Mogwai specializes in wild mood swings, not melodies, which can make its output a bit of a slog. Atmosphere can make up for a lack of melody, but only in the right hands, which may explain the choice of producer Dave Fridmann to helm Mogwai's new Rock Action. Fridmann's experiments with stereo and depth effects have done wonders for Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, and Mogwai's Scottish labelmates in The Delgados. But those bands write songs that would sound great played on just an acoustic guitar, and even Fridmann's ever-clever studio work can't make Rock Action interesting. While "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong," "Secret Pint," and "Dial:Revenge" get by on folky minor-chord shifts, the album's remainder is all drift and drone. The shaped static of "Sine Wave" and the discordant "You Don't Know Jesus" sound cool but go nowhere, while the dirgelike "Take Me Somewhere Nice" boasts pretty strings but little else of interest. Compared to the glacial beauty of Sigur Rós or the neo-classical aspirations of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Mogwai's navel-gazing indulgences just don't resonate.

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