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Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003

Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003

Over the course of their nearly decade-long career, Mogwai has managed to stay prolific as well as slightly change their style up with each release so that they simply aren't retreading the same ground over and over again. I remember the first time that I heard "Helicon 2" back clear back in 1997 and thought that the group was really something new and brave and exciting (I hadn't heard Slint at that point yet, so sue me). While the last couple albums from the group haven't quite reached the dizzying heights of their first releases, there are probably a couple probable reasons for such.

The first is that while the group has changed up their style slightly (adding more electronics, some vocals, and relying less on punishing volume changes), they haven't gone off and done anything too outlandish. Mogwai still pretty much sounds like Mogwai, and although the line from Ten Rapid to Happy Music For Happy People isn't a completely straight one, their work is still fairly interconnnected as they've revisited themese throughout their career. The massive My Father My King is a perfect example, following a very similar sonic structure as "Like Herod" from Young Team.

The second reason the group seemingly hasn't stunned as much lately is that there are so many groups doing similar things nowadays that Mogwai simply aren't looked to as the groundbreakers they once were. With artists like Godspeed You! Black Emperor upping the ante and Explosions In The Sky tiptoeing on beautiful sonics and subtle dynamic changes, it's become a landscape littered with post rock. While working on the follow up to Happy Music For Happy People, the group has decided to drop this BBC Sessions disc (remember when all the cool groups did it?) and at the same time the release works as sort of a greatest-hits to-date package as well.

With the late, great John Peel introducing the band and the disc, it's bound to put anyone in a nostalgic mood, and the group touches on each of their full-length albums, with two tracks from each save Rock Action. The album opens and closes with solid tracks from their most recent release (the closer of "Stop Coming To My House" is especially peerless), while the middle of the release mixes it up from their earlier period, keeping things mostly on the quieter side as "Kappa," "Cody," "Secret Pint," and "R U Still In 2 It" all wash by with warm guitars and occasional downcast vocals. Even though the overall sound has been used and repackaged by many bands in the 8 years since it came out, the glorious guitar washes of "New Paths To Helicon Part 1" are especially wonderous.

The group does let loose on a couple tracks, and the most noteworthy is the blistering "Like Herod," which seems to sap even more anticipation out of the listener than the original version as the track builds before winding down to a fair repeated pluck before coming back with a crush of the heaviest of metals. Needless to say, it absolutely slays, and one of the only other heavier moments on the release (a version of "Superheroes Of BMX" that's much better than the recorded version) pales in comparison. At ten tracks and almost 70 minutes, there's a nice chunk of music on the release, but if you have a lot of the work from the group already, there's not a lot on the release that necessitates purchase. All the tracks are spotlessly performed by the group, but don't differ from the recorded tracks all that much except in a few cases. As a primer to the group, it's a must, though, so if you've been holding out for awhile you may want to start here.

Rating: 7