When Mogwai last left us, they were rocking our skulls in with a 20 minute death-metal version of a traditional Jewish song on their sweeping My Father My King EP. As a follow-up to the excellent (but slightly short) Rock Action (a title that proved somewhat ironic), it let everyone know that the group hadn't completely gone soft after a slew of releases contemplating the quieter side of their shifting musical dynamics. Happy Music For Happy People is another release that takes baby-steps for the group in developing their sound, moving just slightly further down the path carved out on the aforementioned Rock Action.
Again, the title ends up being slightly ironic in this case, as song titles deal with paranoia, thinly-veiled threats, and bizarre phrases that are probably little more than in-jokes to the band themselves. As on their last couple releases, the shifts aren't nearly as dramatic as the "quiet-loud-quiet" aesthetic that seemed to plague the description of their sound upon release of their phenomenal Young Team (although, I admit that the first time I heard "Like Herrod," I was shredded). Despite some fine moments, though, Happy Music For Happy People is probably the bands least interesting album since Come On Die Young.
The album opens with "Hunted By A Freak," and the track uses the same sort of watery filtered vocals that the band used so well on the opening track ("Sine Wave") of Rock Action. Musically, the song is lush and pretty sounding, but the mild swells barely push it into exciting range. "Moses? I Amn't" sounds like it should accompany a rather desolate scene in an upcoming Hollywood film, but as a track feels a little more like a sketch than a full track. Continuing the odd song titles, "Kids Will Be Skeletons" delivers the goods with another soft build and very subtle mix, allowing layers of tonally similar instrumentation shimmer and slide across one another while again denying the listener of a huge release.
"Killing All The Flies" finally brings the dynamics in a big way, again building with filtered vocals and quiet instrumentation (and starting off similarly to the opening track), but suddenly shifts about halfway through in an explosion of beautiful white noise. It's one of those moments that Mogwai has done so many times before, but again proves they're masterful at when they want to be. After the short drone (yeah, drone!) piece of "Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep," the group again lets their metal signs fly with "Ratts Of The Capital," an almost 9 minute track that makes up about one-fifth of the entire album runtime. It's another track that you can sense the changes coming, but it doesn't keep it from rocking any less.
The last two tracks of the disc are some of the most sonically interesting tracks on the entire release. "I Know You Are But What Am I?" mixes chiming synths and piano over a staccato beat pulse, turning it into a weird post rock versus baroque number while "Stop Coming To My House" mixes murky waves of guitars and drums with more percolating keyboards and strings. It's little more than a 5 minute crescendo, but it's one of the most beautiful tracks that the group has done to this point, again exploding in a blast of noise at the end. Yeah, you're still in Mogwai country. In the end, the album is still a fairly solid one for the group, but several of the shorter tracks feel like little more than filler. At the end of the day, though, it's still another good little album from a group that I would have never expected to continue on so long (and they've done so without completely milking the same ideas over and over). If you like Mogwai, you know the routine. If you're just getting started, hunt down Young Team.