Young Team was the first album released by Glasgow rock band Mogwai. It showcases their almost unique style brilliantly, and anything more than the most casual of listens will reveal a depth far greater than the "quiet-loud-quiet-loud repeat, instrumental guitar noise" cliché that lazy or misinformed reviewers so often turn to. It is largely an instrumental affair, but not entirely; the first track, the wonderfully named Yes! I am a long way from home, starts
with a faint hum of feedback over a beautiful piece of bad spoken word poetry, reportedly an excerpt from a student newspaper review of Mogwai, which is clearly being read without rehearsal from a script by a girl who's first language is something other than English. The ums and ers are very endearing, as is the girl's lovely voice. It flows on to slow, whiny distorted guitars over a soft, hypnotisingly repetitive bassline and drum beat.
This leads on to the track largely responsible for the quiet-loud-quiet cliché, the alternatingly quietly menacing and downright savage like herod. It is nearly 12 minutes long, building up an awesome suspense like the best horror films as you anticipate the moment when the soft, dark stroking of the guitar strings is replaced by their animal screams as Stuart and co. thrash at them with vicious intensity. The juxtaposition of near silence and loud noise has led me on many occasion to nearly deafen myself by turning the volume on my stereo up to hear the quieter parts only to rush to turn it back to a sane level again when the noise starts again.
The third track is the deeply intense katrien, which again follows the quiet-loud-quiet pattern, but uses as a timer for the transition a lovely-sounding but sadly largely indecipherable piece of spoken word which I think is by Stuart Braithwaite, one of Mogwai's three guitarists. It also has haunting wordless backing vocals reminiscent of Gregorian chants that complement the few easily audible words and the stark chords extremely well. It is followed by a short but welcome quiet piano piece called radar maker, a relaxing pause after the emotional build-up of the first three tracks.
The next track, tracy, begins and ends with a sampled phone conversation about a fight that occurred during recording; it was apparently a joke on the part of Mogwai, hence them going to the effort of recording it, but the deadpan delivery of the caller fools the victims perfectly, and their obvious distress darkens the tone of what would otherwise be a fairly bland if relaxing piece of mainly percussive music. This is one of the beauties of the album; the emotional manipulation that is achieved using only the instruments and a bare minimum of well-chosen recorded speech.
The next track, summer, is a new version of the track which was included on an earlier ep, and re-released on ten rapid, a collection of pre-young team recordings. It returns to the familiar formula, but is fairly linear in nature, with the loud parts relatively easy to anticipate, almost a Mogwai pop song. It is one of the most polished songs on the album, a cleaner and more refined incarnation of the earlier version. It's louder parts are an amazing rush of distorted guitar, and are amazing to hear live. The next track is with portfolio, a slow piano tune that half-way through it's three minute length turns into a single bizarre rushing noise that fades from the left to the right speaker in a thoroughly disconcerting manner. After a while you find yourself swaying, and if you're not careful (especially if listening while walking using earphones - better stereo separation) it's easy to stumble and fall and make a prat of yourself. A great example of psychological music.
R u still in 2 it is of special interest to fans of fellow Chemikal Underground artists Arab Strap, as it features Aidan Moffat performing a typical 'strap monologue-come-song with typical mogwai soft guitar twiddling rather than the beat-heavy sound that typifies Arab Strap's music.
The second to last track has another great title, the marvellous "a cheery wave from stranded youngsters". It's a brief piece of piano-based music with some wonderful spiralling melodies, which starts with the typical ceilidh band cry of "Ha 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, ha 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and on ye go!", a wonderful piece of irony considering that it's almost dirge-like nature is completely opposite to the lively reels of a ceilidh. This is doubly ironic, given that the timing and drum patterns are very similar to those of ceilidh music, but slowed a great deal.
The final track of the album, and my personal favourite, is the wonderfully uplifting (in my opinion, at least) mogwai fear satan. It speaks to me of hope, carrying on through adversity, and defiance. And there's not a word in it. It is an impressive 16 minutes 19 long, and its wave upon wave of beautifully layered guitars and muffled, oddly stirring drums wash over you in a cleansing rush of relaxation. Maybe it's the Mozart effect or something similar in action, but it is one of the most calming pieces of music I have ever heard. I'm finding it hard to concentrate on typing without falling into a trance even listening to it now. Towards the end, the drums fade out completely, and all that is left is a lonely flute and the nearly inaudible heartbeat of the bassline. It's a work of pure beauty, and I don't have the words to do it justice.
Overall, I feel that young team is easily Mogwai's best album, a near-perfect work of craftsmanship. Everything about it is right; the tracks are perfectly ordered, it never gets too familiar, it is varied, and it communicates emotion with amazing clarity and efficiency, using an absolute bare minimum of sound and almost no vocals to create as strong an impact as the best lyricists. Go buy it.
Tracklisting and length
- Yes! I am a long way from home 5:57
- like herod 11:41
- katrien 5:24
- radar maker 1:35
- tracy 7:19
- summer (priority version) 3:28
- with portfolio 3:10
- r u still in 2 it 7:20 (features Aidan Moffat from Arab Strap)
- a cheery wave from stranded youngsters 3:10
- mogwai fear satan 16:19
Total playing time approx. 64 minutes
Released 1997 by Chemikal underground ltd.
catalogue no. chem018cd
And finally, ascii art versions of the weird symbols (possibly chinese kana or kanji) from the cover and inlay, which I have made for your viewing pleasure. Please /msg me if you know what they mean; I suspect "Mogwai" or "young team", as mogwai is chinese for ghost. They appear as below inside the sleeve, but superimposed over each other on the cd itself. (Apologies: this is my first ever piece of ascii art...)
D'oh. I'm stupid. The left one is the letters M,Y, and T superimposed over each other. I Don't know what the other one is, except that it looks like the symbol for a capacitor with a simple circuit around it.
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