The Hawk is Howling
I have nothing to say, I am saying it, and that is poetry.
That old Cage chestnut was one of the many golden spikes driven to connect the misty Eastern train of thought with the product-oriented Western line of artistic expression, but few passenger trains run that line anymore. Cage was referring to his idea of silence, when one shuts up and lets the world around you do the talking. It never caught on; people generally don't care for what the world has to say. So, instead of freeing Western music from the shackles of tradition, Cage's pieces, tellingly often referred to as "antics" or "spectacles" sent many movers and shakers screaming back into song, and in the 60s and 70s, billions of dollars were made on the folding money of the youth, and taste and commerce were subversively intertwined, making the rope commerce had around the neck of popular culture all the stronger. After the 70s, the era that for a large segment of listening people was the last to provide a note of tolerable music, music kept getting caught up in that rope, the stray threads of punk and disco quickly rewoven into the net within a decade, tightening the weave, choking out the cross pollination, squeezing everything into inseparable mush. The heady "nothing" that Cage bespoke became an actual babble of real Nothing being spoken louder and louder just to be heard.
This is why I like Mogwai, and the whole of post-rock generally. It is music not vying for your attention, not fouling up the air with stupid lyrics, not squeezing into a saleable bracket. The music of Mogwai is like the breeze, a phenomenon crafted by immense forces none of us truly understand, refreshing and pleasurable by the time it gets to us. The Hawk is Howling is track after track of dulcet vibration, flowing into each other making less of a sequeway than a climate shit. Their titles seem to mock taxonomy, tooling along under banners like "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead" and "I Love You, I Am Going to Blow Up Your School" and one that might be a note I would pen to these Scottish cloud-conjurers: "Thank You Space Expert."
Mogwai is such a balm to these ears in that it is not stupid, not in the least, nor would I call it genius. It is instead a continuum, a natural building of momenta and colliding textures that are as organic as moss growing on trees. For example, the hard rock edge at the onset of "Batcat" is like a change in the footpath, suddenly becoming stone after the vague trail through "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead." The sleepy chimes of "Local Authority" offer calm waters on which "The Sun Smells Too Loud" can rain and ripple. Critics of post-rock cite that nothing ever happens in music like this, but in fact, plenty is happening; the disconnect comes from nothing being presented to you. That is a hard blow to accept in this service economy where our persistence relies on providing some sort of dividend for someone here on out, and with the processors of those dividends collapsing left and right and the skies everywhere getting grey as Scotland, it might behoove us to stop paying so much attention to those vying for it, and instead experience the vibrations of those who offer up nothing to say at all.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com