Sripping away much of the noodling and noise of their earlier work in favor of tighter structures, more immediate melodies, and vocals, on Rock Action Mogwai recaptures the excitement that surrounded their first releases. Like so many groups stuck with the post-rock tag, Mogwai needed a way to expand beyond the term without changing their sound completely, and aided by guests like producer Dave Fridmann and Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys, they've found it. Rock Action incorporates bristling distortion, propulsive drums, and electronic textures similar to Tortoise's Standards -- particularly on the opening track "Sine Wave" -- but the album's most remarkable moments revisit and reinvent more traditional sounds. Buoyed by lush string arrangements and Fridmann's detailed, warm production, the brooding ballads "Take Me Somewhere Nice" and "Dial: Revenge" couldn't be further from "rock action," but they display the album's refreshing restraint and immediacy. In particular, "Dial: Revenge" -- so named because "dial" is the Welsh word for "revenge" -- benefits from Rhys' emotive yet cryptic vocals in his mother tongue, but the general emphasis on vocals adds to the album's organic, emotive feel. Nowhere is this more evident than the nine-minute epic "2 Rights Make One Wrong": With its lush layers of brass, strings, banjo, guitars, and vocals, it sounds like the rock-oriented cousin of Jim O'Rourke's pocket symphonies. Meanwhile, "You Don't Know Jesus" uses its eight-minute length to reaffirm that the group is still at the top of its game when it comes to guitar-driven catharsis. "Secret Pint" sends the album out on a serene note, proving that in the proper hands, the quietest ballad is just as commanding as the loudest rock action; Rock Action shows that Mogwai have mastered both styles.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares