“Get to France” is not what I was expecting from the opening track on Mogwai’s new EP, Earth Division. Sure, the band are not one for staying in the same sonic territory for too long, but there’s usually a level of fuzz in Mogwai’s music that fits with the usual post-rock clichés that isn’t present on the first half of this slender EP. This is why the sombre piano of the relatively short “Get to France,” laced with tense strings typical of a dark piece of cinema, creates a somewhat surreal atmosphere. It sounds like music in a weird and twisted nursery; certainly unsettling, but symbolic of the sound that Mogwai try and embrace on this EP.
The immediate follow-up, “Hound of Winter,” comes across melodically as a gorgeous tribute to Mogwai’s homeland of Scotland. The vocals are soft and subdued, whispered atop a soothing ballad of pretty piano notes, lofty acoustic guitar, wondrously shimmering strings and eclectic Celtic-inspired flourishes on a mouth organ. Again, “Hound of Winter” is not typical post-rock, sounding more like a beautiful alternative track, and it serves to open the doors to the wider world of Mogwai. The band have proven in the past that they can capture moods of both gentle ambiance and of aggressive tension, but rarely have they sounded quite so delicate as here. It is comforting to know that nearly twenty years into their productive career they can still surprise an audience and make rewarding music.
Interestingly, “Drunk and Crazy” sounds more rave-inspired, featuring the usual fuzzy guitars one would expect of Mogwai melding into a chaotic storm of imitation-electronic music. This is until the strings enter the mix around halfway through the song; when the fuzz once more resumes, it sounds like something from the Tron Legacy Soundtrack. Stuart Braithwaite described the track to the Guardian as being a “piece of randomonia,” an experimental attitude which can be greatly appreciated, although the track doesn’t quite sound as pleasing to the ears as its predecessors, coming across as oddly jarring in comparison to the rest of the tracks on the EP. Luckily, “Does This Always Happen?” is there to ground the album back into its sentimental roots. Once again, elegant piano notes are interspersed with the thoughtful string arrangements – clearly a running theme across the EP – to great effect.
It is easy at this stage in the game to applaud Mogwai for continuing to make good music, especially as Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will already graced our speakers earlier in the year. Earth Division is a short and contemplative release to tide fans over until the next full-length. It’s a beautiful EP deserving of repeat listening, although the real winner is the folk-inspired “Hound of Winter,” which could very-well be Mogwai’s loveliest vocal track to date. By putting the heavier guitars and effect pedals in the background – percussion is also barely present – and instead focusing more on pretty melodies, Mogwai have crafted what could almost be described as a minor film-score. “Drunk and Crazy” is perhaps the only misstep, interesting on its own, but somewhat breaking the mood when viewed in the grand scheme of Earth Division.