Record Review - 1 September 04 2003

Few rock bands take their work to the lush, orchestrated extremes of Mogwai. A penchant for brooding swells of sound and infrequent vocals often makes the group sound more like an orchestra — albeit an orchestra obsessed with feedback-laden shoegazing --than a five-piece band. But the sweeping layers and grand statements come at a price: The delicate touch of subtlety is easily lost in this age of short-attention spans.

Happy Songs For Happy People isn’t a sunny exposition any more than 2001’s Rock Action was an upbeat rumbler in 4/4. While there are ephemeral moments of cheer (the sweet hook of “Kids Will Be Skeletons”), the irony appears to be heavy, with the frequent bouts of eerie guitar leads, a scarcity of sung lyrics, and grim titles. Fortunately, Mogwai continues to find more restraint in their craft; only one song builds to the eight-minute mark. The rest have been sanitized for the four-minute pop fan. This economy brings an astute focus to what typically has veered toward indulgence in the past.

The drifting piano lends a Windham Hill sentiment to “I Know You Are But What Am I?” But lest you think the band will never look back to the caustic frenzy of the Young Team years, the full-on rock floodgates open nicely on the epic “Ratts of the Capital,” and the span of styles is fitting.

Mogwai has delivered another generous soundtrack of despair — they’ve just repackaged it to make you think it less bleary.

Mogwai plays the Variety Playhouse Thurs., Sept. 11. $15.