Not that that was necessarily apparent in 1997: then, there was a sense that Mogwai represented the younger, second wave of the then-underground “post-rock” movement that had been bubbling since the turn of the 90s. And, with long, mainly vocal-free pieces that explore timbre and a sort of tension-and-release confrontation at the expense of anything more user-friendly, ‘Young Team’ superficially fitted that bill.
However, listening twenty years on, there’s far more to the album than its “post-rock” tagging. Indeed, if this is a post-rock record, then the emphasis lies squarely on the “rock” end of the spectrum: opener ‘Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home’ is (almost) the sound of a traditional four-piece band playing without its singer, containing even something akin to a guitar solo towards the end, and the abidingly magnificent ‘Like Herod’, for all its loud-quiet-loud post-rock signifiers, owes its greatest debts to the MC5, 80s hardcore and even Nirvana.
In contrast, too, with the emotionally aloof music that had been cast as “post-rock” up to now, ‘Young Team’ is unashamedly full of feeling: the glistening guitar tones that surround ‘Tracey’’s glockenspiel generate a sort of poignant, dreamy hopefulness, while the doleful ‘R U Still In 2 It’, all heavy-hearted sad-drunk torpor, bears no relation to sterile, potentially nerdy academic experimentalism. The whole record, meanwhile, swims in a tangible sense of youthful frustration, of railing against the world and of the anger, sadness and occasional euphoria that that beligerence elicits.
And nowhere does that authenticity, punk-rock ferocity and emotional outpouring come together better than in the record’s finale. ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ is the band at their most weaponised and feral, the sort of music whose eagerness and ecstatic unrefined rush, you sense, could only appear on a debut album. It remains Mogwai’s most iconic moment, and even if twenty years of live performance has streamlined its execution somewhat (its 16 minutes had shrunk to 11 by the time it appeared on the ‘Special Moves’ live album in 2010), none of its impact has been lost: a common calling card of a lot of the records that this series has revisited in the past year has been the sprawling, rather magisterial closing track (Essex Dogs, The Private Psychedelic Reel, Cop Shoot Cop etc), and ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ sits proudly among that grand company.
The track is not just a wonderful blow-out, either – it has function too. Such heft coming at the end of a long album, mopping up a quarter of ‘Young Team’’s entire running time, anchors the record quite gracefully: at 64 minutes, ‘Young Team’ should feel ponderous, especially as a debut, but ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ counterbalances any earlier dangers of drift with ease.