On October 23rd venerable Glaswegian post-punk pioneers Mogwai are commemorating their twentieth anniversary with a comprehensive new release, Central Belters, a massive collection (3 CDs/6 records) that serve as more than a ‘greatest hits’ retrospective for a band which has significantly influenced many of today’s bands while building a dedicated fanbase along the way.
Released via their own Rock Action label, Central Belters, an allusion to the central belt of Scotland where the lads hail from, documents Mogwai’s career from their formation in 1995 to 2015 while subsequently illustrating why they remain so relevant. The first two discs chart the chronological path through their eight studio albums and a handful of EPs while the third disc collects rarities, b-sides and split single tracks.
Championed voraciously by John Peel, whom they recorded seven sessions for, they simultaneously left their mark in the mediums of both films and music. Peel ‘s exuberance about the band lend to his recording an introduction to the compilation, Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003. Setting aside the advantageous exposure generated from Peel’s citations, Mogwai continues to operate within a world of their own creation where the rules and regulations of making music have been torn asunder in favor of a sound focused on rich sprawling forms and intricately textured substance that oftentimes dispense with lyrics in favor of heavy distortion, churning effects and layer upon layer of dense sonic abrasions. Something that at the time of their inception, while not completely new, exhibited an aesthetic of innovation and bold experimentation that separated them from the pack.
The collection begins with “Summer”, a double-side single from 1996 before moving into “New Paths to Helicon Pt. 1”, a slow boil that establishes the band’s penchant for starting slow and letting things fester before exploding into coatings of compact density that ease back into a comfortable delicateness. “Stanley Kubrick” is a balanced musical nod to both the director and band’s love of film, a facet of their composition represented throughout the compendium. “Take Me Somewhere Nice” (from 2001’s Young Action), Travel Is Dangerous (from 2006’s Mr. Beast) display Mogwai’s often overlooked underbelly, underpinned by Stuart Braithwaite’s subtle vocals. “Mogwai Fear Satan”, “Auto Rock” and “Friend of the Night” are examples of the syncopation they’ve developed over the years as they’ve birthed sweeping instrumental compositions built on expansive foundations.
While the first portion of Central Belters is relatively lo-fi, the epilogue is a more developed cacophony that epitomizes the apparent direction where the bands next exploration lay. Case in point the final two tracks, the sturdiness of 2014’s Rave Tapes, represented by “The Lord Is Out of Control” and “Teenage Exorcist”, a crescendo of lush surface noise from last year’s Music Industry 3, Fitness Industry 1 EP.
Amongst the gems on the latter portion is the gorgeous “Burn Girl Prom Queen” (from 1999’s EP), the melancholic assault of “Devil Rides”, featuring Roy Erickson (from the 2008 EP, Batcat), the majestic “Hungry Face” (from their soundtrack for the TV show Les Revenants) and “Earth Division” (lifted from the Occupy This compilation). Winding down the proceedings is 2001’s twenty minute slugfest, “My Father My King”, a track that serves as Mogwai’s definitive apex in that it shows their hand as artists that has arrived as well as serving critics and fans with notice of what epic things lay in store for the future.
The accompanying thirty-plus page booklet features the requisite history of the band along with an overdose of pictures, setlists, ticket stubs and collected debris. Like the album itself, there’s a lot to digest here but it’s tasty. Overall Central Belters dauntingly collects thirty-four of Mogwai’s most provocative gems and packages them in a compressed and concise retrospective that stands as a testament to their robust body of work.