Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003
As hard as it is to imagine a band like Mogwai having a “greatest hits” collection, it’s that much more difficult to believe that one could come from government-funded recordings. That, however, is exactly what makes up this album: ten tracks culled from various BBC recording sessions, most from the late John Peel’s show. It’s inconceivable that a band dubbed “the world’s loudest band” would get such continuous airplay on this side of the Atlantic, even on the most progressive NPR shows. Judging from the material selected for this disc, Mogwai generally knew where to draw the line, and they didn’t overly test mainstream audience enjoyment levels. The band’s more melodic side shines throughout, with lots of minor chord interplay and ponderous bass plotting instrumental flow charts to end up in the same state of despair. Still, the primordial, elemental arrangements and delivery of the band’s melancholy has fierceness in its beauty. The inverse of this is also true on the epic, sixteen-minute “Like Herod,” the sonic equivalent to the Nazi-melting scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the cover’s been lifted and holy vengeance breaks loose. Much is made of Mogwai not being a lyric-driven band, as if it’s out of necessity to compensate for poor vocals, but the mournful autumn hymn “CODY” and the slightly lesser “Secret Pint” prove that while they’re more interested in aiming at the universality of emotion, they can bring the focus down to a human interaction level when need be. Government Commissions is the distillation of the first seven years of Mogwai’s existence, and while it might not be as brutal an experience as you’d been lead to believe, you can think of it as preparatory for the Gremlins lurking elsewhere in their back catalog.