Album reviews: Mogwai | Aidan Moffat | Red Sky July

Mogwai

Mogwai

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Veteran noise merchants Mogwai bring a contemplative quality to their new nuclear-themed record

Having carved out an international niche as respected noise merchants over the past 20 years, Mogwai are now steadily becoming the go-to group for stentorian soundtracks with an unsettling edge. Already on the CV are their contrasting scores for Douglas Gordon’s arty footie documentary Zidane, which effectively channelled their trademark quiet/loud dynamic, and a much more beguiling soundscape for the eerie French drama Les Revenants (The Returned) which made for creepy listening even without the haunting visuals of the show. Their latest filmic outing, Atomic (***), is a reworked collection of the music they recorded for Mark Cousins’ documentary Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise about the good, bad and ugly of atomic power. The band themselves had a former field trip to the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima in their back pocket and it is a suitably contemplative journey they make here, rather than the incendiary white noise they could so easily have unleashed on the theme.

Ether layers on twinkling keyboards, mournful brass and delicate piano to disarming effect for several minutes before the amps are turned up and the distortion pedals stamped upon, while SCRAM is a solemn synth meditation, symptomatic of Mogwai’s new adventures in sci-fi and the enhanced role of keyboard player Barry Burns in the sound mix.

The steady march of U-235 is likewise hypnotic and they maintain the measured pace on the doomy totalitarian epic Pripyat, named after the ghost town beside the Chernobyl power plant. The brooding organ and deep plangent bass of Are You A Dancer? soften the texture and there’s a burst of old school Mogwai noisemongering on Tzar before the fallout of Fat Man.

Mogwai’s old buddy Aidan Moffat has been on a journey of a different sort. Two years ago, the former Arab Strap man embarked on a road trip around Scotland, meeting the standard-bearers of a number of folk traditions and penning his own adaptations of old tunes from a modern, urban perspective. The wry, charming results of this culture clash have been captured in Paul Fegan’s film Where You’re Meant To Be and this accompanying live album (***) features Moffat and band – pianist Stevie Jones, fiddler Jenny Reeve and backing singer James Graham of The Twilight Sad – powering through the bemusement of some of their audiences and raising a collective glass on The Parting Song.

Moffat is a candid storyteller at the best of the times, and there is much uneasy ribaldry in his digital age rendition of I’m A Rover and Ode To O’Brien Et Al, his self-penned response to the eponymous cardinal on the subject of gay marriage. But even he cannot compete with the explicit content of the original Ball Of Kirriemuir.

Red Sky July’s new album The Truth and the Lie (***) is a far more fragrant folk proposition. Although rooted in Nashville tradition, it is the work of husband and wife team Ally McErlaine (Texas) and Shelley Poole (Alisha’s Attic) in sweet harmony with Charity Hair of The Alice Band. The pleasant easy listening atmosphere is shot through with a quiet strength on break-up number Taking Myself Back (“I fed the dog, even left you the cat”), a front porch intimacy on light bluegrass track Earthwards and a tasteful cry in the two-pronged delivery of In Black. Spiritual sister Beth Nielsen Chapman adds another harmonising voice to the mix on Strathconon and the whole collection wafts by on a light spring breeze. Fiona Shepherd

JAZZ/FOLK/CLASSICAL RELEASES

JAZZ: Matt Ridley: Mettã | Rating: **** | Whirlwind Recordings

Matt Ridley, who leads this very organic and at times crystalline-sounding quartet, has established his reputation as a young bassist in demand, although it is Jason Yarde’s mercurial soprano sax that is a salient feature of this album, along with John Turville’s frequently luminous piano, as demonstrated in the rich flow of the opening Music to Drive Home To.

The sax sings out a suitably melancholy theme in Lachrymose, lamenting over a Latin-ish shuffle of piano and George Hart’s inexorably hustling drums, although things break out, with Ridley contributing a warm-toned double bass excursion as the sax subsides into lonely hooting. In contrast, Mental Cases is all cascading piano, with sax squalling and swerving through relentless forward motion.

Yarde’s sax sings sweetly in the mellow ballad Strange Meeting, while the title track (mettã is a Buddhist term denoting beneficence) is richly textured and at times eastern-sounding, with querulously calling saxophone contrasting with intervals of calm and murmuring bass, before intensifying over crashing drums to its conclusion. Jim Gilchrist

CLASSICAL: Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol 5 | Rating: ***** | MM16030

There’s a certain type of pianism that presses all the buttons for me. It is that ability to combine flawless technical and tonal mastery with innate musicality without drawing undue attention to either. Jonathan Biss does that here in the fifth volume of his ongoing survey of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas.

It opens with a wonderfully clear vision of early Beethoven, the Op2 No3, sweetly nuanced, but with a solidity of touch and weighted charisma that looks forward to the later works. Biss moves on in Beethoven’s timeline with the G major Op79 and E minor Op 90 sonatas, the former a model of precision and clarity, the latter exquisitely contrasting the stormy opening with the dreamy final movement. Biss ends magnificently with the profound eloquence and drama of Op 101. Ken Walton

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