Sunday, December 2, 2012


Mogwai - A Wrenched Virile Lore
Rock Action, 2012

It is, of course, no secret that I love Mogwai, but I have to admit that I was somewhat sceptical about the prospect of this remix album being any good. I don't love Kicking A Dead Pig (in fact, I can't really remember ever having the urge to actually listen to the thing, not even the Kevin Shields rework of "Mogwai Fear Satan"), and the list of contributors--Justin K. Broadrick and Tim Hecker aside, obviously--seemed pretty underwhelming. Nevertheless, as a fan of the band, I felt an obligation to at least give it a listen. After all, no remixer was foolhardy enough to tackle the best song on Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will ("You're Lionel Richie"), nor was anyone tackling the worst ("Death Rays")--at least not exclusively: "Death Rays" is a part of Robert Hampson's "La Mort Blanche" remix, but more on that later. Unfortunately, I have to say that, by and large, my initial impression--this will be underwhelming--was confirmed. All told, there are two absolutely essential remixes/recreations here, with the rest of the album's tracks slotting in anywhere from functional to boring to irritating.

Starting with the latter, the album's only serious misstep is the Klad Hest "Mogwai Is My Dick" remix of "Rano Pano." Refashioned into some kind of cartoon-jungle hybrid, the track winds up as seven interminable minutes of hyperactivity, an annoying child of a song that just won't seem to go away. If the track is meant as a joke, it's punchline is made clear early on without any kind of set up and it never manages to raise as much as a grin. Cylob's "EVP Mix" of "White Noise" is the closest to Klad Hest's in terms of missing the point, but nothing about it winds up as actively annoying. The vocodored vocals inserted over the top of the track are a curious choice, and with some worthwhile lyrics (and maybe a deviation or two from the main melody line) might have been interesting. The sort of surfeit of prettiness Cylob seems to be going for is ultimately delivered by Umberto's slightly too long remix of "Too Raging to Cheers" as a kind of mystical, cosmic disco track. As it is, Cylob's track just seems kind of pointless.

I hate to damn the contributions of (arguably) the main draws here pointless, but there's not much to be said about either Tim Hecker's reworking of "Rano Pano" or Justin K. Broadrick's "reshape" of "George Square Thatcher Death Party." The former is little more than the original track with some static over top and run through a tremolo and the occasional bit of detuning. In some ways, it feels like Hecker is trying to turn the track into something like his own brilliant "The Piano Drop," but no such luck. Compared to this year's brilliant "Suffocation Raga for John Cale," Hecker's version of "Rano Pano" just feels half-assed. Indeed, the Soft Moon's take on "San Pedro" actually does a better job of "Hecker-ising" its source track, coating the track truly thick and viscous fuzz. As for Broadrick, it's probably best to think of his reshape as a kind of alternative take on the song, one where the original's bouncing pop is replaced by a gothic, arid dream pop, a little like what appeared on Jesu's Silver EP minus the warmth. It's certainly worth a listen just to hear what else "George Square Thatcher Death Party" could be, but I can't see myself returning to it with any frequency, or ever really preferring it to the album version.

There are a few takes that, if not superior to the album versions, do offer an interesting cases for how to hear those album tracks as part of larger themes and sounds that would otherwise escape detection. While "Mexican Grand Prix" was perhaps the most obviously krautrock indebted track on Hardcore Will Never Die, its Neu!-isms are revealed to be in good company by Zombi's reworking of "Letters to the Metro" as an elegantly Kraftwerkian epic, one that in its icy snynths, rigidly sequenced lines, and stately, measured melody line deliberately evokes "Trans-Europe Express" (the better choice would've been that record's real highlight, "Europe Endless," but that's an argument for another time). I only wish that Zombi could've found a way to get some "Planet Rock"-style vocals into the mix. Xander Harris' take on "How To Be a Werewolf" is equally enamoured of early German electronics, but uses its gentle motorik pulse to simply draw attention to the original track's euphoric build and climax. Indeed, it winds up feeling more like a kin to "Hallogallo" than "Yes! I Am a Long Way From Home" by the end. Nothing flashy, nothing fancy, then, but both tracks manage to make "Mexican Grand Prix" seem less like an anomaly than it initially appeared on the album.

"Mexican Grand Prix" itself is the subject of one of two tracks that make the entire album worthwhile. RM Hubbert transforms the song from driving krautrock into a hushed, moonlit bit of menace. Amping up the air of frustrated lust that ran through the original, Hubbert's acoustic guitar plays off the electronic voices retained from the original to brilliant effect. It's so good that I can only hope Mogwai themselves are taking notes. Hubbert's reworking is dwarfed (literally and figuratively) by Robert Hampson's mammoth closer "La Mort Blanche." Working through both "White Noise" and "Death Rays," the track is a full-immersion bath of bliss that, like Floating Points' remix of Four Tet's "Sing," radically expands the scope of the original source material in order to push into ever higher levels of light and colour. Hampson takes full advantage of his fourteen minutes, not rushing a single note and allowing a softly burbling ambient wash (it sounds a bit like an email alert heard through a running faucet, and I mean that in a good way) connect his take on "White Noise" to "Death Rays." The latter half of the track is even more impressive to me than the former, turning what I thought was Mogwai's most by-the-numbers track into a subtly life-affirming hymn, all soft-focus spangle without a sharp edge in sight before the original's furious climax appears in the guise of a gentle flame out.

Ultimately, I can't say that A Wrenched Virile Lore is going to get much play on my stereo. Outside of the RM Hubbert and Robert Hampson, there's not enough to really recommend it over its source material. I'm not sure that there ever has been with a remix album (I can't even say that I would take No Protection over Protection, to be honest). Without ten transcendent talents who are all firing on the day, the remix album seems destined to be a grab bag. Thinking of these as sort of b- (or c- or d-) sides that never were, though, makes a little more sense, though not in 2012. Instead, I'll treat A Wrenched Virile Lore as a postcard from an alternative 1998. In the meantime, though, I'll wait for Mogwai's soundtrack to Les Revenants.

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