Legendary Scottish instrumental rockers Mogwai have been rocking out sans lyrics since 1995, so it’s hard to believe that it’s taken 15 years for their first live album to see the light of day. ‘Special Moves’ is a collection of songs from the band’s three-day residency at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg in late August 2009 and serves as an excellent primer for post-punk newbies as well as long-time fans eager to have a tight collection of the band’s earlier classics including ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ from their 1997 debut album ‘Mogwai Young Team’ mixed in with newer tracks like the cryptically-titled ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ from 2008’s ‘The Hawk is Howling’. ‘Special Moves’ is accompanied with a DVD, ‘Burning’, directed by Vincent Moon (more famous recently for directing R.E.M.’s ‘Supernatural Superserious’ music video) and Nat Le Scouarnec.
Wonderfully mastered by Kenny Macleod of Red Block Mastering in Glasgow, this CD gives the listener internal warmth and makes you feel included, as if you are there live with the band. ‘Friend of the Night’ with its mesmerising rolling piano is married with compelling guitar work. ‘Hunted By a Freak’, the opening track from the band’s 2006 ‘Happy Songs for Happy People’, is a suitably swirly track of guitar goodness. It’s the musical equivalent to a good cognac. Going down, it’s incredibly smooth. The terrorist-sounding ‘I Love You, I’m Going to Blow Up Your School’ is equally successful. The drumming takes a more prominent role in ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’, mixing in with the guitars for a proper jam.
For listeners desperate for lyrics to grab on to, ‘CODY’ (better known as ‘Come On Die Young’ by Mogwai’s devoted) is your salve. It’s the most mainstream of the tracks on the album. But if you’re buying a Mogwai album, there is something wrong with you if you’re actively looking for lyrics. Close your eyes and let the band take you on a musical journey on the back of deceptively simple guitar lines that when interwoven together with piano and drums (see ‘I Know You Are But What Am I?’) make up some incredibly beautiful songs. If you’re looking for something headbangingly good, try ‘Like Herod’. See? Mogwai has you covered.
The sonic landscapes that Mogwai has lovingly crafted over the years represent the band’s philosophy that lyrics are unnecessary to creating good music. For the most part, ‘Special Moves’ is a testament to this, showing that musical masterpieces are more about heart and feeling rather than how loud you can play or the perceived eloquence of lyrics (or sometimes in the case of some popular acts today, the lack thereof). Even if you aren’t the type of person to enjoy long instrumental rock pieces, this 11-track live compilation will make you ponder whether lyrics are a necessary component to fashion valid rock music.
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