With Rave Tapes, Mogwai sacrifices some of the diversity of sounds and texture that can be found on most of their earlier albums in favor of creating a tighter-sounding set of tracks, held together by ominous synths that naturally mesh with their trademark guitar orchestrations. But while Rave Tapes boasts some excellent moments, it's hard to shake the feeling that the album could have used a few more surprises.
Mogwai keeps things firmly mid-tempo throughout, and tracks build to upper-mid-level peaks, but no higher. The standout track "Remurdered", with it's twisting synth line, propulsive kick drum, and rising waves of guitar feedback, seems to be the exception that proves the rule. It's a menacingly fun ride among a collection of songs that seem introverted in comparison. It's immediately followed by "Hexon Bogon", which sounds ready to follow in it's footsteps until the song ends suddenly at two-and-a-half minutes in, just as things are getting interesting.
The only real oddity on the album is "Repelish", which is overlaid with a tongue-in-cheek monologue describing the supposed satanic messages hidden in Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven". Why Mogwai decided to include such a tired rock 'n' roll story trope on this track - delivered flatly and with zero character - is anyone's guess. If you can ignore this scene-stealing distraction, the song's repetitive chord progression hints at the unexplored potential of what could have been a seriously compelling track.
Mogwai may not be pushing their limits on Rave Tapes, but does that mean they've made a sub-par album? Certainly not- Rave Tapes seethes with caged energy, and is rich in dark atmosphere. Sonically, the arrangements and overall mix create an attractively organic feel- full of purring bass, resonant guitars, and drums that feel warm and dark even when they're being pummeled. This is the sound of a band that is usually heralded as "expansive" or "cinematic" packing their imposing sound into a dark basement. It's a concentrated dose of Mogwai that should leave fans satisfied, but some of these songs could simply use a little more room to breathe.