The perennial risk of releasing a film’s score separately from its accompanying images is that the music’s role as scaffold for the onscreen drama is either too complex or too insubstantial to make sense in isolation, often leaving soundtrack albums as something only for completists or those looking for mere Spotify background fodder. However, and unsurprisingly given their customarily cinematic studio albums, Mogwai appear more adept than most at finding the Goldilocks zone in their scores, and their fourth – following the art-house documentaries about Zinedine Zidane and nuclear history, and the french TV series Les Revenants – largely continues that trend: while ‘KIN’ might lack the heft of last year’s ‘Every Country’s Sun’, there remains plenty of nuance and bite, tension and release, and (of course) massive dynamic range.
Moments of aimlessness abound – ‘Flee’ and ‘Miscreants’ are closer to cues than fully fledged Mogwai pieces, both tracks containing all the right ingredients but waiting, presumably, to be blended by what’s on screen. But these occasions are pleasingly infrequent, and when the band has time to stretch out, the material transcends that of a standard soundtrack album: six-minuter ‘Donuts’, with its pulsating synths and shimmering melancholy, is an impressively original post-rock interpretation of, of all things, European trance that builds into something simultaneously apocalyptic and still. The title track’s weightless melody, brooding drone and slow, stalking pace would be as comfortable on one of the band’s mid-noughties albums as it is on a summer sci-fi crime thriller.
Despite their clear affinity for soundtrack writing, ‘KIN’ doesn’t represent the full Mogwai experience – the track titles are disappointingly plain, and despite the engrossing composition and arrangement, the music retains a slight feeling of utility rather than one of pure self-expression – and it’s only the credits song ‘We’re Not Done’, another entry into the band’s recently developed penchant for brazen verse-chorus indie rock singalongs, that sounds truly unconstrained. But as a demonstration of Mogwai’s range as they push on into their third decade of making music together, ‘KIN’ holds up as an admirably strong minor work for what has become a major band.