That would depend on the work in question, of course, and in the case of The Hawk Is Howling, the latest offering from Glaswegian post-rock experimentalists Mogwai, the album has plenty to say.
Although completely devoid of any vocals, The Hawk Is Howling’s rich and textured melodies do well to shape a variety of dramatic themes.
Take the album-opener I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead, for instance. Gentle beginnings, which include quiet piano and guitar, along with robotic atmospherics lurking in the background, are the dark clouds on the horizon, foreboding an impending storm that eventually arrives to soak the listener with a deluge of noise.
Do not take that climactic torrent at face value, though, as Mogwai successfully go beyond loud and install enough nuances to make the employment of their build and crest formula anything but formulaic. Note, for example, the dramatic subtlety inherent in Martin Bulloch’s release of the hi-hat pedal en route to the heaviest portion of the track, or that in the understated, harmonizing tone tucked in just past the tonic once the song reaches its culmination.
While a human voice is absent, instrumentation steps in to provide compelling commentary. Consider as evidence the repeated, distorted guitar lines that articulate solar flares in The Sun Smells Too Loud, or the clattering chatter of I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School.
In addition to being densely textured, The Hawk Is Howling is rather eclectic, and draws inspiration from a few of the group’s contemporaries. Sigur Rós, minus the Hopelandic and violin bow, are brought to mind in the gentle Kings Meadow, complete with an assortment of bells and processed effects, and the cosmic Thank You Space Expert. The electronic stylings of French dynamos Air (as well as the dissonant distortion that opens R.E.M.‘s Saturn Return) seem to have influenced the spacey Daphne And The Brain.
Contrasting a bit from the rest of the lot (in terms of intra-track power consistency) is Batcat, the introductory release from the album. The song is a fantastic rocker, evoking 1990s grunge (minus the gritty, flannel-clad lead singer). With a pulsating rhythm, quivering solos, and an abrupt close (complete with wails of feedback – the titular, displeased bird, if you will), the sound is reminiscent of vintage Bush attempting a more patient dissection of one of their offerings from Sixteen Stone.
The Hawk Is Howling is a record that shows Mogwai’s lips to be sealed, but speaks volumes about their depth and ingenuity. Whether simmering or reaching a rolling boil, the album proves that, after 10 years, the band continues to contribute admirably to the alternative rock dialogue.