Mr. Beast

Band: Mogwai
Album: Mr. Beast
Best song: “Auto Rock” and “Friend of the Night.”
Worst song: “Acid Food” is just OK.

I’m slowly realizing that I don’t have the time I want to do all the things I want and often my hobbies suffer. I have other obligations — social, work, school, etc. — that have made it so my album writing has mostly fallen by the side of my life. I had a nice month in January, but, overall, I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like.

So, as such, you, dear reader, get a less-than-stellar piece about one of my favorite bands.

I’ve written in a few places about my favorite albums. I did a tremendously poor job of writing up Tortoise’s first record. I was slightly more articulate in writing about Blood Mountain. My piece on You Are Free is nothing to sneeze at, though not the epic work I had imagined when I started writing it. I am proud of my pieces on Either/Or and Death Cab’s second record.

But, the overall theme is that writing passionately about a loved record is not super easy. Sometimes, it makes for interesting tangents — why the record affects me, where I’d first heard it, etc. — and I want to continue doing that. I am nothing if not someone who enjoys dim-witted intellectual masturbation.

As seen in the Tortoise piece, though, but it simply makes for a pain-in-the-ass read. I can’t easily describe the first Tortoise record. It’s mostly instrumental. My memories of first discovery of the record are pretty foggy.

Similarly, my interest in Mogwai — a band I consider a favorite — was more of a piece-by-piece situation that would hardly make for interesting reading (well, maybe in the hands of a skilled writer). I was vaguely familiar with the band in high school and bought Young Team, but did not fully appreciate it. I got a copy of CODY in college and sorta enjoyed it. This is basically the story of my relationship with Mogwai.

That is, until, I got eMusic after moving here five and a half years ago. I’d fallen out of the music touch and was only listening to funk and soul from the early-mid 70s (Mayfield, P-Funk, Bill Withers, etc.). A friend introduced me to eMusic when downloads were still unlimited, legal and cheap. So, I took this opportunity to download everything Matador had to offer, essentially, picking up scores of Cat Power and Mogwai records along the way.

This is how I came to Mr. Beast, one of the most beautiful records I’ve ever encountered. It’s Mogwai’s most accessible records. There are exactly zero songs over six minutes long. The raucous guitar army sounds often favored by the band make way for Barry Burns’ gorgeous piano and the band’s heavy riffing. As with the best instrumental rock, the album sounds like it could score a key scene in a moving film.

Indeed, the album opener was used in a movie trailer. “Auto Rock” is a building, melodic thing, built on a sparse piano piece and thumping, driving drums. “Friend of the Night” is a similar song, though carried out through a Dirty Three-esque filter, melodic and beautiful.

The band also uses vocals more. “Travel is Dangerous” keeps the singing in house with Burns taking on the task and “Acid Food” similarly has band leader Stuart Braithwaite reprising the vocal role he assumed in “CODY.” Envy’s Tetsuya Fukagawa and Scottish composer Craig Armstrong share spoken-word duties in “I Chose Horses,” as well.

Being Mogwai, the heavy riffs do remains. “We’re No Here” is a hard-rock “Auto Rock” – fitting that they are the album bookends — with a feedback-drenched final three minutes and a punishing Martin Bulloch drum line. The heavy riff is reminiscent of “Like Herod,” though in an easy-to-digest five and a half minutes.

“Glasgow Mega-Snake” shows more that the band was the type that covered Black Sabbath and grew up in the 1990s. Fast-paced and intense, the song is built on a serious riff. The song dips and changes while the three-guitar attack harmonize.

Mogwai is a favorite band of mine, but I don’t have a fantastic explanation of why Mr. Beast is such a brilliant record. I simply suggest listening to it.

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