Out & About

For a bunch of trash talkers, the five thuggish, ruggish Scotchmen in Mogwai sure do make a heavenly racket. Rock Action, their new album, is the sound of post-rock quietly (and sometimes loudly) exploding, an enormous emerald-green cloud billowing out into the night sky and slowly obscuring everything you can see in the sky when you stand on earth. There's stars, plenty of them--listen how the bells twinkle on "Sine Wave," or how the banjo plucks out a constellation on "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong"--but they're sublimated to the fabric-like loveliness of the whole--an intensely beautiful afghan admired for its occasional breach or irregularity.

It's music that reminds me of recent stuff by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros, who have since late last year become the hippest hipster band in America. That band's music is an ineffably gorgeous ball of space-rock yarn, the kind you feel stupid trying to describe, as if your aging grandmother held out her wrinkled, veiny hand and you gave her five down low. But where I kind of expect that from Sigur Ros--seeing them live last month only confirmed my suspicion that frontman Jon Thor Birgisson is some sort of Adidas-wearing elf-man-guy--getting it from Mogwai, a band who famously scored their biggest press coup by printing up a raft of T-shirts calling Blur "shite" (and who recently spent an NME cover story ravaging a host of other bands they'd similarly come to not love), is something else entirely.

Actually, maybe it's not. You could make an argument--and you'd probably be right, or at least getting there--that since the refocusing of the pop-culture laser beam on electronic music (or teen pop or hip-hop or whatever red herring you like), a healthy chunk of indie rock has retreated from the pursuit of its traditionally scruffy gestalt, in search of the "organic" beauty that can presumably be drawn only from guys standing around playing instruments with funny, pained looks on their faces. For all their trend-damning heroics, Mogwai aren't exempt from the sway. So while they used to be content to play quiet parts and then loud parts and then quiet parts again (tracing the lines Louisville visionaries Slint laid down a decade ago), now they wear Misfits shirts and strum their guitars carefully and sing songs (oh yeah, they sing now, too) about watching spaceships cruise over Glasgow while the drummer pretends to be the spaceship. Major Tom to ground control: What happened to our misfits, and why does it sound so good?