To append the alternately elegiac and purgative sentiments of Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, Glasgow’s favorite post-rockers are issuing a concise four-song EP that makes for a decidedly crestfallen epilogue. In fact, Earth Division’s spotlight on plaintive string arrangements and staid instrumentation more closely aligns it with orchestral movie soundtracks than anything germane to the bombast of rock and roll. It’s by no means a progressive statement for a band long revered for its innovation and influence, but Earth Division is still a fine compendium of Mogwai’s prowess with more sedate atmospheres.
“Get to France” serves as the album’s terse opener with a piano-based threnody whose spectral melody is all the more haunting when fleshed out by violin harmonies and mallet percussion echoes. If you’ve ever watched a period drama set inside some dank and dreary castle, this is probably the music that accompanies the establishing shot. The outlook is only slightly less foreboding on “Hounds of Winter”, where dulcet acoustic guitar work, swooning strings, and the demure vocals of bandleader Stuart Braithwaite generate unexpectedly frosty textures.
“Drunk and Crazy” is the only Earth Division track that seems overtly referential, channeling the grinding fracas of Hardcore track “Rano Pano.” Alongside a throbbing bass line, the guitars whip up a melee of distorted timbres that imply an oncoming cathartic release, only to be subverted by the preternatural arrival of lush piano and string chords. The guitars threaten to swell once again but ultimately come up short as the song devolves into a mist of fuzz and feedback.
Like its predecessors, the closer’s atmosphere hangs heavy with melancholic beauty – in truth, “Does This Always Happen?” could almost pass for a neo-classical string quartet work, accented by pristine electric guitar and piano lines.
Those in search of something that registers with the same emotional depth as Hardcore might be disconcerted by the notable lack of rockers on Earth Division, not to mention the record’s uncanny similarities to artsy film scores. This is a collection of doleful ballads for sure, but Mogwai is still due credit for successfully dialing down their aggressive tendencies and drawing attention to their most tender affectations.