Like many other post-rock groups in 2021, Mogwai are in a weird place. The first leg of their illustrious career was full of brand new territory—helping define a genre and expand instrumental possibilities with albums like Young Team (1997), Rock Action (2001), and even Mr Beast (2006). But after the mid-2000s, when it seemed the genre had taken a step back, the group made a shift to possibly expand their horizons, delving into movie scores and electronica with records like Atomic (2016) and Rave Tapes (2014). With all these new experiences and experiments, one would assume that their music would only improve over time, yet the group keeps coming back to familiar territory in less-effective ways, and As the Love Continues is no exception.
For any fan of Mogwai—or post-rock in general—you’re most likely familiar with some of the formulas by now: long, drawn-out instrumentals building a slow crescendo until the track hits its climax about two-thirds of the way through. That’s their bread and butter, and even though it’s predictable, there are many other things that diversify their sound on an individual level. On As the Love Continues though, the record fails to bring out these differences in most of the tracks, resulting in a tracklist that feels like six of the same song with subtle differences, and a few exceptions that break the curse.
This “same-y” identity most of the tracks hold onto is a mix of rugged, wall-of-sound guitars and dreamy synths or electronic filters—all things the group has more than enough experience in. But most tracks that utilize it are either too subtle and unassuming, or in the case of “Here We, Here We, Here We Go Forever,” incredibly obnoxious. Like Kanye West’s “Runaway,” much of the song is an extended, distorted, and autotuned lyrical expression; but where West is able to use it as a genius portrayal of an incoherent, emotional outburst, Mogwai doesn’t compliment it with lyrics, song structure, or anything. Instead, it’s three-to-four minutes of electronic gibberish.
That isn’t to say there aren’t still hidden gems in the tracklist, though. Bookending both sides of the record (luckily) are perhaps the two best tracks: “To The Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth,” and “It’s What I Want To Do, Mum.” Surprisingly enough, neither actually deviate too far from the previously laid-out song structure. The track opener, however, creates a gorgeous and calm atmosphere in its first two minutes, and begins to develop the repetitive but victorious chords a little after halfway through. Thus, the track isn’t as stale or one-dimensional. The other is an almost overly-patient, melancholy, ominous track whose deep, overbearing bass, sluggish tempo, and subtle background noises coalesce into what most of Mogwai’s music attempts to grasp onto: an undefinable but undeniable sense of isolation and dread.
The other main highlight—and lead single—”Dry Fantasy” breaks the mold of monotony with a delightful, hypnotic, pseudo-IDM presentation unlike anything else on the record. Harkening back to other early-2000s electronica users, Sweet Trip, it’s a more heavily electronic track whose suffocating, dense noise is much more blissful than it is harsh.
But occasionally breaking the mold can be even worse than operating strictly by it, and “Ritchie Sacramento” is that moment. Though the first fifteen seconds show a bit of musical promise, with metallic echoes coming in from all sides, as soon as the lyrics break in, it turns into a bland example of 90s shoegaze. It’s as if you took the staple abrasion out of releases like Psychocandy (1985), and just left some mellow, normalized pop song with a subtle wall of guitars.
Finally, outside of similar feelings of existentialism, the record has no coherent message it seems. In fact, with the decrescendos at the end of just about every track, most are inherently cut-off from one another. This doesn’t mean the record can’t flow or be good, but in the genre of post-rock, when songs don’t soar on their own, often-times great narratives or environments can pull a project together. I rarely find myself listening to an isolated song from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, yet a couple of their projects are some of the best accomplishments in music history. Unfortunately, Mogwai’s newest record fails to bring that fail-safe.
Despite their discography expanding across four decades and experimenting more than almost any band on the planet, Mogwai’s newest effort falls flat both experimentally, and musically. Few moments on here live up to any of their career highlights, and although there are a few tracks worthy of being mentioned in that group, a solid two-thirds of it are just, well, bland. From lacking formulaic and instrumental diversity, to featuring some poor examples of other genres, As the Love Continues is a disappointing release. I’m glad that the group finally released a project that hit number one on the UK charts, but it’s unfortunate this was the release to do it.