The Hawk is Howling is the sixth studio album by the Scottish post-noise-rock band Mogwai.
Released in 2008, it represents a slight but substantial change of pace for the sound and compositional approach of the Glasgow group; the songs are in fact all instrumental and filled with electronic spice.
The listener’s approach to a post-rock record is not simple and/or straightforward. There are no lyrics to sing-along, as much as instead there are sometimes complex dynamics and harmonic structures. For Mogwai, in particular, even violent digressions in noisier and wilder territories of avant-garde rock music (retraced back to influences such as My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Pixies).
At the same time, the listener will find these tracks as awe-inspiring, as musical treasures filled with joy and lights, interpretations of the sublime as a human condition; the only virtue required is patience, that is to be interpreted as the greater Gadameresque “art of listening.”
Mogwai’s attempt to polish their sound
A laconic piano riff introduces the album in I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead. The listener is actively put in an emotional state that oscillates between longing, nostalgia and awe, as an evident crescendo disports itselfs in the central section, where an explosion of guitars, bass, and sprouts of ethereal feedbacks lead to the main piano theme, a pop-oriented lick that dances on the joyous cacophony of feedbacks and layers of synths and distorted guitar in the background: a ceremony of fire and apocalypse that as the title suggests should remind the listener of the last moments of the life of the rock legend Jim Morrison.
Mogwai in The Hawk is Howling completely reinvent their sound. This happens alternating heavily distorted and cacophonous moments as in Batcat and more meditative electronic synthy soundscapes in Danphe and the Brain and Kingsmeadow. With their synthetic harp sounds the latter create a sky-like musical background for the clean guitar lead to speak its personal voice.
It seems that the band just polished its sound, as the mix is less rough around the edges and the bass and middle frequences are boosted up to give more body to the single tracks.
To catch a horizon
The last three songs of the record show the most cathartic side of Mogwai, but from different angles.
Scotland’s Shame presents a fairly long intro of almost two minutes that slowly gives space to a simple but driving bass line and to an epic, very spacy guitar work that reaches a fuzzy and liberating climax supported by a synth harmony whose epic nature is contrasted by the raw energy of the distortions.
Thank You Space Expert shows the dream-pop side of Mogwai, the band choosing a more tender but still gloomy approach to the composition and also to the execution.
The Precipice ends this attempted journey to catch and surpass rock horizons with a granitic statement: the horizon is impossible to catch as it relentlessly moves with art itself and social interpretations of it.