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Mogwai, Young Team (Remastered)

05-30-2024 | By Michael Mercer | Issue 133

Mogwai, Young Team (Remastered)

We knew we were in for something shiny and new back in 1997 when Mogwai dropped Young Team. It wasn't because their sound was entirely new. Sonic Youth, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Yo La Tengo dropped their noise rock years before Team, but it wasn't until Mogwai hit the scene that the grand vision of what would later be known as "post-rock" crystalized (though apparently the band hates that phrase—so if they should ever read this review—please forgive me). Young Team not only punctuated the golden era of noise rock, it showcased its endless possibilities. This music sounds like a sunset, or a sunrise, followed by a car crash, and finished off with a moonlit skinny dip into the Pacific Ocean (or any ocean for that matter). The difference was; The Jesus and Mary chain sounded like a rock band wrapped in an atmosphere of haze and noise. Mogwai sounded like the atmosphere of haze and noise that wrapped itself around a rock band—and the rock band is so incredibly freakin' tight. Thankfully their balls-out boldness and willingness to sonically explore are matched by the mastery of their instruments. We tend to kill the magic of the music with over-classification, but I've always said that Mogwai is my favorite ambient band, as opposed to "noise band." I say that because they feel like the ambient band for my generation: Generation X. They sound like the glory, the emptiness, the anger and the fuckin' beauty of Gen X: All at once. Especially upon reflection, Young Team sounds like echoes of the reaches of the nineties, the feeling of hope and wonder that the internet brought—and the feeling of total alienation that it also brought—along with our disenfranchisement with corporate America and its seemingly endless greed. But it's also incredibly gorgeous. It's atmospheric rock at its finest. Young Team is a magnificent looking glass back into the past, and the future of Mogwai.

Umm, this music can put a human being in a trance-like state.

If somebody said "Mogwai are the stars I would not object, if the stars had a sound it would sound like this" Such profoundly intuitive vocals at the intro to "Yes! I Am a Long Way from Home." Following that up with phrases like "music is bigger than words and louder than pictures," hovering in a stereoscopic web of noise—you get the feeling you're in for something interesting. I remember feeling that way back when this was originally released. So cool to know now that it's a friend of the band: Mari Myren, reading from a live review of Mogwai in a student newspaper in the UK. By the time the bass and guitar come in, slowly but steadily rolling straight down the middle of the soundstage, with this heavy, low sway—then widening things out with the drums—I still can't find a better way to describe this sound, after all these years, than atmospheric rock! My apologies for the repetition. The instrumental builds and builds through this crescendo of day glow distorted guitars, pounding bass lines and minimal, yet powerful drums. The end, and transition into the next track incorporates tape samples slowed down and sped up—these kinds of playful audio effects buried deep in the music would later become an essential building-block of the Mogwai universe, and what a colorful universe it is. The surprising transition from mellow, starry sky music to in-your-face screeching guitars and slamming drums of "Like Herod" are like a rhythmic snapshot of the yin and yang that constitutes the essence of Mogwai's brilliance: The sonic choreography of their musical extremes. Don't be fooled by all the atmospheric space talk here. These fellas can f'in bring it, hard.

The playfulness continues on "Katrien." With these vocal samples floating in the middle of the swirling guitar, bass, and drums. "Tracy" is so gorgeously dark, but also manages to sound hopeful, through its billowing keys and echoing soundscape. It's the vocal samples that give this track such magnificent duality: It's conversations saying things like "we gotta do something about this," "when can you be here," "we gotta do something, cuz if we don't take care of this then I don't even wanna think about it" floating amongst spacey keys and slow rolling, incrementally building bass lines and airy guitars. It's gorgeous and worrisome, creating this tension that releases through the rise and decay of the music. "Summer" continues that sense of beauty met with alarm. It's steady and thunderous guitar sounding like an intro to a power balled on Metallica's classic Ride The Lighting LP. Then, in pure Mogwai form; the music peaks with these hard-edged guitar riffs, and the slow roll back downward is so freakin' preciously spacious. "R U Still In 2 It" (a track title that came, ironically, before our 21st Century glossary of text acronyms) begins with one of my favorite lyrics, reflecting back to when I first heard Young Team—listening to the whole album, and coming upon the voice asking me "are you still into it?" "Because I'm into it." Back then I thought they were speaking directly to their audience, to me. But upon further listen you realize it's a sort of love song. The songwriter pondering times at the pub, having a fight, wondering if their lover will miss them when they're gone. This also is a slow jam. The musical countdown (seemingly called out by a music teacher: "ah 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, ah 1, 2 ,3, 4…") sets the stage for its haunting piano in a very strange, yet effective way. The minimal drums are wide-open and spacious, but powerful. The transient snap of the hi-hat and kick-drum are palpable and foreboding. "Mogwai Fears Satan," the albums closer and perhaps best known track, acts as a sonic wormhole into the future with Mogwai. It builds, it builds, it builds, it peaks, it smacks you across your damn face, and then it builds some more. Upon its peak, you don't know whether to laugh or cry, or scream! All would be appropriate in this case. It's an atmospherically sonic roller coaster of a joyride.

Luckily (and we'd expect nothing less from this magnificent band) not only has nothing been lost in the remaster, they've made this journey even more immediate and coherent. We know that some remaster projects have, unfortunately, somewhat robbed the originals of their sonic soul. Sometimes it's simply marketing—repackaging an already-commercially successful product in order to generate more revenue for everyone (and who could blame them). This is not the case here thanks to the original recording engineer Paul Savage, who also did an amazing job with this remaster. Bravo Mr. Savage. The dynamics, timbre, and overall spaciousness are all here, just a little more-so. It's punchier but not loose or sloppy. The transient attack and snap are just a little cleaner—which helps make everything more transparent. Young Team is a space rock musical masterpiece. If you don't, at the very least, find a sense of hope in this record; I feel genuinely sorry for you (but only for a second) because you might be dead. Its sharp peaks and seemingly endless valleys are captivating and oh-so freakin' breathtakingly beautiful. Did I say I like this record a little bit? Wink wink. Good. I sincerely hope you enjoy Young Team if it's your first time around the planet known as Mogwai. We welcome you with open arms. As for fellow devotees: I can't imagine you'd regret revisiting this proven timeless introduction to one of Scotland's' greatest bands. I'm so grateful I found this remastered version—it forced me to sit down and listen to Young Team from start to finish for the first time in years. It pleases me to say, even after all these years, that's so freakin' astonishingly good it still sounds so contemporary and futuristic! What more could you ask for from a record originally released in 1997? 

Mogwai has also released a Deluxe Edition (featuring live cuts of multiple songs and a fantastic cover of Spacemen 3's "Honey") on sky-blue vinyl, 2 LPs. This review is of the digital release.



Here's the link to highly anticipated documentary about Mogwai: If The Stars Had a Sound.