MOGWAI with BARDO POND at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Sunday (May 27), 5 pm. $17.50. 416-323-1251.
they may have just produced their quietest, most intimate album so far, but Mogwai haven't mellowed in the slightest. Look beneath the hushed soundscapes on the Glasgow space rock quintet's excellent new Rock Action disc and there's an eerie violence waiting to erupt. Check out the group's sprawling live sets and that intensity and aggression are even more evident.
If further proof is needed, just ask singer/guitarist Stuart Braithwaite a few questions about some of his fellow musicians. Next to watching their beloved Celtic football club and enjoying the odd "secret pint," there's nothing the chaps in Mogwai like to do better than slag off the bands they hate.
"It's a dangerous business," Braithwaite laughs, "because some of these absolutely shite bands actually turn out to be top people once you meet them. We're not bitter, just opinionated."
Here then are Braithwaite's opinions on some of his least favourite musicians.
In 1999, Mogwai took their famous dislike for Blur to new heights by selling shirts with the slogan "Blur: Are Shite" on the front. They became an instant hipster fashion item, and a shipment was apparently requested for Blur main man Damon Albarn.
"They're just terrible," Braithwaite explains. "Absolute garbage masquerading as the people's band. Fuck off."
Rumours that Mogwai would similarly honour Albarn's Gorillaz side project with a "Gorillaz: Are Worse" shirt proved unfounded.
Darlings of the British press who were crucified when their Parachutes album blew up, soft pop quartet Coldplay "exemplify everything that's bad about the British music industry," Braithwaite insists.
"Spineless music, shite songs and these fans that cry at their shows. The only reason someone would ever cry at a Mogwai show is because it's too loud."
An easy target. "Moby's a right cunt," snorts Braithwaite.
"He claims to be this self-righteous environmental Jesus freak and then sells songs for car adverts. I get angry just looking at him. When we were making Rock Action, the original idea was to mix a bit of a bluesy feel with some electronics, but that bald fucker's face kept popping up in my mind, so that was the end of that."
There's a similar sense of sweeping ambition on Rock Action and Air's new 10,000 Hz Legend disc, but don't tell Braithwaite that.
"Air are a band I hate for any number of stupid reasons. They have this cool factor which winds me up, and their music's dead boring. I heard they have Beck on the new album. That just about settles it."
MOGWAI Rock Action (Matador) Rating: NNNN
Not the Led Zeppelin facsimile that singer Stuart Braithwaite hinted it would be, Rock Action is an epic, adventurous record from a band who've long undersold themselves on disc. Where past Mogwai albums like Come On Die Young took the easy route by simply mimicking the group's minimalist, Slint-damaged live sets, Rock Action is a wildly orchestrated pop album, full of hushed melodies, murmured vocals and banjos.Fans should have seen this coming. Brooding tracks like Stanley Kubrick and Burn Girl Prom Queens, both from 99's EP+2 mini-album, were characterized as major departures for Mogwai. Those songs were driven by measured rhythms and swelling horns, fairly out of character for the band at the time.Rock Action pushes the transformation one step further. Taking full advantage of producer Dave Fridmann's trademark widescreen sound, the quintet turn down the lights and lose none of their intensity. Braithwaite now jokes about how much money was spent recording the disc, and it shows. In addition to Welsh vocals by Super Furry Animals front man Gruff Rhys, the group bring in strings when the songs demand, but also leave plenty of space for Braithwaite to mutter cryptic lyrics about secret pints and aliens over Glasgow. Despite their notoriously cantankerous nature, songs like Take Me Somewhere Nice and Dial: Revenge are disarmingly pretty. The potential for big-budget overindulgence looms large, but with their masterpiece clocking in at just 48 minutes, Mogwai know better than to overstay their welcome. Pure post-rock action.