A couple months before its release Rock Action was causing a bit of confusion about itself. Some places thought that Mogwai was going to be releasing an EP followed up shortly by a full length album and like a lot of other indie rock groups who have widely anticipated releases, there were misleading titles and speculation abounding. In the end, the album Rock Action is left, and it will most likely cause a fair amount of interesting degrees of commentary on it.
One of the things about the album that's surprising is simply the length. With only 8 tracks and a running length of about 38 minutes, it's just over half the length of their last full length release Come On Die Young and just slightly longer than their EP+2 release. Not only that, but while both of those releases had the group toying with quieter sounds, Rock Action (despite the somewhat misleading title) has them embracing it fully. While there are admittingly a few moments where that label might apply, it's mainly a slightly more quiet affair.
Of course, when I say that it's more quiet, I don't mean that in a derogatory way. In addition to stretching out into actual songs with vocals (more on this in a bit), the group has created a much more dense sounding record with Rock Action. The album starts out with the slow burn of "Sine Wave," a track that has some of the familiar sounds of the group, with a watery guitar line that slowly gets overtaken by a steadily louder percussion (which is in turn layered intermittently in thick feedback). The whole track has the effect of swelling water, and the indecipherable vocals feel like they're creeping up from bubbles escaping from underneath the ocean floor. From there, the group ebbs into the beautiful "Take Me Somewhere Nice" with member Stuart Braithwaite on quiet bartione vocals backed by David Pajo. With string arrangements and some delicate horns layered on top of the already nice musical arrangement, it's a welcome addition to the groups sound.
After another short track with Braithwaite on vocals (which feels like a quiet afterthought of the previous track), Gruff Rhys of the Super Furry Animals joins up for an almost balladish "Dial: Revenge" singing in his native Welsh. It's the two long tracks of "You Don't Know Jesus" and "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong" that the group really hits their stride, though. Both tracks stand up as some of the best pieces that the group has ever created and while they work in different ways ("You Don't Know Jesus" is slowly building while "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong" cranks along with huge drums), they're both amazingly orchestrated and pile on the layers of sound into beautiful epic-length tracks as well as containing some moments where the album title is quite fitting.
So while its a short release, its also one that doesn't make you feel like the group is wearing thin on ideas. By the time the album closes down with the quiet piano and percussion with sampled strings flavored "Secret Pint" (also with Braithwaite on vocals), you just want to hit the play button again and get swept through it all a second time. It may confuse people, but its an album that shows the group settling into their slightly different sound very nicely and creating a solid release.