Some who Wander are Lost
Any major band that has been active for a significant amount of time is likely to stumble into some rough spots. It doesn’t matter whether that band is Radiohead or Muse, a stumbling block always seems to come bundled with any level of consistently timed output. While the inevitability of these flubs does cut down on the pain they cause fans, they can still hurt, especially when the band is considered to be a foremost pioneer in the genre. Unfortunately for fans of Mogwai, this has been their existence for almost a decade now, and Every Country’s Sun does little to repair the situation that has been building ahead since the release of Happy Songs for Happy People graced the ears of listeners almost fifteen years ago.
The complaints that have surrounded Mogwai are often twofold. One side of the argument views Mogwai as the catalyst for pushing post-rock into the mainstream alongside contemporaries Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Rós, but then lost their way by breaking into the use of electronic instruments that destroyed the aggressive and visceral sound they were once known for. The other side sees them as the act that shoehorned post rock into endless hills and valleys of sonic chaos by creating “crescendo-core” on their immaculate album Young Team which would lead to people only understanding post rock so long as it swelled, crested, dipped back down, and sounded like an offshoot of Explosions in the Sky. Those who fall on the second side may gain some joy from Every Country’s Sun, but those who lean towards the former will only see it further exacerbate the decline. The album isn’t bad per say, it just doesn’t sound like Mogwai. Tracks like “Party in the Dark” could just as easily have been created by Mogwai as they could have a knockoff of Imagine Dragons, and it isn’t difficult to see the song getting major play on alternative rock radio stations.
That is then the main issue of this iteration of Mogwai — it doesn’t sound like them, in almost any regard. Even tracks that mimic elements of their Young Team days like “Brain Sweeties” and “Don’t Believe the Fife” that are populated with bristling synths and piano instead of the furious, sweeping guitars that so often threatened to swallow the world whole back in the late ’90s. The issue isn’t that electronic is present, so often it is wonderful to see artists evolve and incorporate new elements into structures that they have created, but Mogwai has forgone the insertion of new sounds into tried molds and has instead thrown out the mold in favor of something new — a strategy that has rarely paid out for even the most beloved of artists as Mogwai has no doubt noticed over the years.
It again is important to know that Every Country’s Sun isn’t bad, it just isn’t Mogwai. The slow bass line of “Crossing the Road Material” is lovely — the bright, static tinged synths of “Brain Sweeties” are frisson inducing at their best and delightful at worst. “Crossing the Road Material” even features a nice crescendo throwback to Young Team but the urgency isn’t there. There’s cinematic presence, there’s drama, but there’s no violence, no chaos, and no urgency. Mogwai is not a controlled burn — it is a wildfire, starting from embers that billow into a maddening forest fire on a collision course with a nuclear power plant. This album is nice, it is pleasant, and it wonderfully soundtracks a nature walk, but it won’t be lighting any hearts ablaze in the foreseeable future. And so, sadly, it isn’t Mogwai, at least not in the way one would hope.