Album Review: Mogwai – As The Love Continues

[Rock Action; 2021]

The first thing you hear on the 10th album by Scottish post-rock stalwarts Mogwai is Benjamin John Power (Blanck Mass) murmuring the phrase that would become the title of its opening track; a surreptitious recording of him talking in his sleep: “To the Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth”. An appropriate title for its piano-led, stargazing opener, it strikes a note much different than the dialogue that opened Mogwai Young Team’s curtain-raiser “Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home”, but the parallels are clear – their 1997 debut introduced the Glaswegian quartet to the world in earnest, and their latest offering As The Love Continues can be seen as a reintroduction. This is their second album since the surprising departure of long-time member John Cummings in 2015, and they weren’t long in stabilising thereafter, rebounding with three solo soundtracks and one collaborative venture released either side of their previous outing, 2017’s Every Country’s Sun.

They’ve resumed that early quartet formation; the difference, of course, being that the trio of guitarist/vocalist Stuart Braithwaite, bassist Dominic Aitchison and drummer Martin Bulloch is now completed by keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Barry Burns, who joined in 1998. Typified by beautiful lead single “Dry Fantasy”, their sound is layered enough that faithful recreation requires an expanded live lineup, as per usual, and working remotely with producer Dave Fridmann of Mercury Rev certainly made for strange recording sessions, but had no bearing on the finished product. Being able to adapt to unusual circumstances is part of what makes this band work, after all.

Over the years, the band have collaborated with the likes of Aidan Moffat (Arab Strap), Gruff Rhys, and Tetsuya Fukagawa (Envy), and this album finds them working with Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails and saxophanist Colin Stetson, who pop up on “Midnight Flit” and “Pat Stains” respectively. Ross returns the favour after Mogwai contributed to the collaborative soundtrack venture Before the Flood in 2016, augmenting the song’s cinematic grandeur by contributing a mellifluous string arrangement that suits its widescreen scope perfectly. “Pat Stains”, meanwhile, is one of three songs on the record that hover around the 7-minute mark, with ghostly backing vocals and Stetson’s restless saxophone part providing additional texture and colour as things build to an explosion at around four minutes that’s an example of the build-and-release contrast they do so well.

Present and correct across the 11-track album are the irreverent song titles the band have become known for: “Ritchie Sacramento” is one of these –born out of a friend misremembering how to pronounce the name of Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto – and in spite of that, it manages to be among the most affecting moments on the record; immediate, yet also touched by loss and grief, led by clean vocals from Braithwaite as it pays tribute to David Berman of Purple Mountains and Silver Jews, who passed away in 2019 (“My oldest friend that I barely knew / So much fun hanging around in the dark / You stop time / Managed to somehow find a way out of here / Dagger in everyone’s heart”).

“Drive the Nail” and amped-up penultimate track “Supposedly, We Were Nightmares” lock into a groove and take it to two radically different places, while “Ceiling Granny” is four minutes of pulse-quickening, riff-driven euphoria, sure to be a live staple whenever Mogwai can take As The Love Continues out on the road. It’s among the highlights on a laser-focused record that’s their longest studio album since The Hawk is Howling, but has a lightness of touch that feels nothing of the sort. Twenty-four years on from opening their account with Mogwai Young Team, and they’re still kicking; still into it; still making music that’s bigger than words and wider than pictures.