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Mogwai Discographied Part Ten: Rankings and Ephemera

Mogwai 2010 promo photo by Steve Gullick

This post of rankings and ephemera wraps up Mogwai Discographied. If you’re wondering “What is Mogwai Discographied?” it’s a deep dive into the catalog of one of the foremost purveyors of post-rock. Consult the first nine parts of the series for the gory details: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Each post tackles two or three entries in Mogwai’s catalog. If you’re not interested in reading 16,000+ words on Mogwai to figure out a starting point, the following list should help.

Rankings

I’ve ranked these albums/compilations with two considerations in mind: personal preference and best starting points. I’ve excluded lesser releases (singles and remix albums), and bundled the 4 Satin, No Future = No Education (Fuck the Curfew) and Mogwai EPs under EP+6, since that’s the most cost effective way to acquire those releases. Everything on this list is worth hearing at some point, but if you learn a single lesson from Mogwai Discographied, it’s that you should pace yourself when consuming Mogwai releases. Start with the top four, then progress down the list as your appetites allow.

  1. Young Team: Mogwai’s first full-length features towering highs (“Mogwai Fear Satan,” “Like Herod”), glorious guitar tones, and powerful dynamic range.
  2. Special Moves: A long-overdue live album for fans and a sampler platter for newcomers that excels in both departments. Get a version with the Burning concert DVD included.
  3. EP+6: This must-have three-EP compilation offers brass bliss (“Burn Girl Prom Queen”), fuzzed-out crescendos (“Small Children in the Background”), unrelenting noise (“Stereodee”), and whirring beauty (“Stanley Kubrick”).
  4. Rock Action: Mogwai’s shortest LP does not lack inspiration, loaded with fruitful forays into electronic (“Sine Wave”), folk (“Dial: Revenge”), and symphonic impulses (“2 Rights Make 1 Wrong”).
  5. Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003: This compilation offers alternate views of known songs, a few of which (“Secret Pint,” “Like Herod”) are definitive versions.
  6. Ten Rapid: Collected Recordings 1996-1997: This compilation of Mogwai’s early singles exhibits their innate melodic touch and a greater reliance on open spaces.
  7. The Hawk Is Howling: Achieves length without excessive sprawl, in large part because of its exceptional last four songs.
  8. Mr. Beast: A 40-minute block of well-crafted songs (like the riff-machine “Glasgow Mega-snake”) that lacks the evocative mystery of Mogwai’s best works.
  9. Come on Die Young: A handful of extraordinary tracks (especially the slow-core ballad “Cody”) are brought down by an exhausting mid-tempo stretch.
  10. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will: Their newest album shows off a few new tricks (the motorik drive of “Mexican Grand Prix,” the ambient companion piece “Music for a Forgotten Future”), but mostly sticks to known terrain.
  11. Happy Songs for Happy People: This mostly subdued collection of songs never hits Mogwai’s top gear, but does provide some worthy additions to their catalog.
  12. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait: A calming, if repetitive soundtrack that shows off Mogwai’s quiet side.

Ephemera

Mogwai's split single with Magoo

I’ve covered all of the key Mogwai releases in detail, but there’s plenty more to track down for the tireless completist. This list is not comprehensive, but it’s a good starting point for that journey.

“Sweet Leaf”: Mogwai reveal their fondness for Black Sabbath with this cover of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf,” which appeared on a split single with Magoo in 1998. Not their best vocal performance, but you can hear the influence of those slow, heavy riffs in countless Mogwai songs.

“Hugh Dallas”: Mogwai’s contribution to the Everything Is Nice 3CD compilation for Matador’s 15th anniversary is a haunting nine minutes of slow-core. Drifting along on Stuart Braithwaite’s hushed vocals and gentle strumming until the guitars crash down, “Hugh Dallas” is a lo-fi companion to Ten Rapid’s vocal tracks. Well worth hunting down.

Mogwai's split EP with Bardo Pond

Split 10” with Bardo Pond: Two pleasantly mellow songs from a limited-edition tour EP. “D to E” drifts semi-aimlessly with its blurred guitar, keys, and trumpet. “Drum Machine,” a collaboration with The Remote Viewer, offers a subaquatic companion piece, with the titular element bumping quietly beneath the surface. These songs reappeared on Mogwai’s 2001 UK Tour Single. Neither is easy to find.

Japanese bonus tracks: Heeding to the tradition of adding bonus tracks to the Japanese pressings of their albums so consumers don’t just import the American versions, many Mogwai albums have received additional material abroad. Rock Action received two bonus tracks: “Untitled” is a longer take of “D to E,” while “Close Encounters,” a collaboration with David Pajo, is one of Mogwai’s mid-tempo, crescendo-free meditations. Happy Songs for Happy People offers “Sad DC,” which emphasizes Luke Sutherland’s mournful violin. The Hawk Is Howling has “Dracula Family,” an upbeat instrumental that would’ve made a nice b-side for “The Sun Smells Too Loud.” (This song also appeared on a Rock Action sampler.) Collect these songs and you’ll have a pleasant, if inessential EP of bonus material.

The Fountain soundtrack

The Fountain soundtrack: Clint Mansell scored Darren Aronofsky’s ponderous 2006 sci-fi romance, recruiting the Kronos Quarter and Mogwai to perform it. Mogwai presumably contributes guitar arpeggios, foreboding textures, and drumming to “Holy Dread,” “Stay with Me,” and album/film centerpiece “Death Is the Road to Awe”—just don’t expect to proclaim “A lost Mogwai song!” The soundtrack holds up reasonably well without the film, but context won’t hurt. The Fountain tends to be a love/hate proposition, but I’m somewhere in the middle, enamored with the cinematography, set design, and boundless ambition, but aware of its repetitive structure, muddy thematic arcs, and the danger of such boundless ambition.

“Gouge Away”: Mogwai contributed a noisy and accented cover of the Doolittle favorite to the 2007 Dig for Fire: A Tribute to the Pixies compilation. It’s not astoundingly great, but it’s still a thousand times better than The Promise Ring’s line reading of the song for the prior Where Is My Mind? tribute (from which I recommend The Get-Up Kids’ energetic rendition of “Alec Eiffel”).

Fuck Buttons Split Single: Mogwai and Fuck Buttons toured together in 2008, releasing this split EP for the occasion and then issuing it on vinyl for Record Store Day 2010 in the UK. Mogwai contribute an excellent remix of Fuck Buttons’ “Colours Move” from their 2008 debut LP Street Horrrsing, while Fuck Buttons add buzzing synths and tribal drumming to their cover of “Mogwai Fear Satan.” Both songs are worth checking out, as is Fuck Buttons’ superb 2009 LP Tarot Sport, which picks up that “Mogwai Fear Satan” thread within their own aesthetic.

Mogwai's Mexican Grand Prix single

Hardcore singles: Mogwai’s newest album has garnered two singles: one domestic, one import. The Sub Pop single for “Rano Pano” offers “Hasenheide” on the flip, a charging, drum-driven rocker that carries a bit more emotional weight than its sonic counterpart on the album, “San Pedro.” The Rock Action single for “Mexican Grand Prix” features sleeve design reminiscent of Mogwai’s earliest singles and the b-side “Slight Domestic.” It’s a carefully crafted mid-tempo instrument midway between “Death Rays” and “Letters to the Metro.” I don't know where or how they'd fit on Hardcore, but arguments could be made for their inclusion.

Remixes: In addition to having their own songs remixed, Mogwai has returned the favor on a number of occasions. Here are some notable ones:

I’m currently determining the subject of the next round of Discographied, but I can tell you one thing: it will not be a contemporary post-rock band.

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