On their new Earth Division EP (Sub Pop), the Scottish post-rock group flutters briefly away from their traditionally sprawling songs of expanding proportions such as “Like Herod” and “Mogwai Fear Satan” to a more stripped down sort of chamber music à la Erik Satie or John Cage’s less avant-garde work, which can be clearly heard in the first track “Get to France.” Fourth (and final) track “Does This Always Happen?” responds similarly to the opening, albeit laying down more strings over a hypnotic guitar rhythm. This gives the play a circular and melancholic atmosphere, which sometimes overdoes the heaviness of it all.
The two central tracks seem to save Earth Division from sounds of complete despair and desolation. “Hound of Winter,” the second track, begins with an airy and delicate tangle between piano and guitar. The vocals creep in around thirty seconds (the only vocal track on the EP) and the strings flash hot soon afterwards. The third track, “Drunk and Crazy,” is the most complex and unique in the set. It begins with a pleasantly howling noise of guitars— a refreshing wash from the strings and piano that are given too much attention in the first two tracks— then rising into a light drum-pounding crescendo that builds in intensity until a sharp and cathartic exit after two minutes, transforming into a thick soup of strings. After showing signs that the song might die out as another chamber piece, the drums come running back with the accompaniment of stacked screams of guitars, breaking into the intimacy. This transition reveals a rather successful juxtaposition of hard and soft (one of Mogwai’s most compelling tools) and then finally ending in fading distortion, successfully preventing “Drunk and Crazy” from going on faraway tangents.
On the whole, the Earth Division EP works structurally, serving an image of a classically-informed sandwich with some meaty sounds left in the middle to savor. Credit must be given to a brave departure from Mogwai’s traditional signature moves, although there are times that create a longing for the more layered and complex construction of Mogwai’s past catalogue.