Young Team (reissue) (Chemikal Underground, 2008)
originally published at Dusted Magazine
In the 10 years or so since it first came out, Young Team has remained such a monolithic presence in what the taxonomically lazy have taken to calling 'post-rock' that it hardly seems necessary it to talk about its influence. It encompasses, in a little over an hour, pretty much everything that the genre aspired to while it was crystallizing around the turn of the century: menace and delicacy, abruptness and linearity, mystery and well-tempered wankery. You could argue that this album had a more profound effect on literally hundreds of other albums, starting with the Temporary Residence catalog and ending roughly here, than it did on Mogwai’s subsequent career; it just wouldn’t be a very interesting argument.
The more appealing exercise occasioned by this kind of reissue - that is, a reissue of an album that never disappeared, but whose original sound quality left some room for improvement - is to think about where it all came from. In his notes to the new version, Keith Cameron explains that Mogwai “represented an antidote to the stultification of rock ’n’ roll” in the mid-90s, particularly the waning interest of Britpop. That’s a little much, considering that Radiohead’s OK Computer and Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One came out the same year. As a new band Mogwai showed great and adaptable promise, but it wasn’t so revolutionary, at least in the sense of conscious opposition, as it’s tempting to recall.
Indeed, one of the highlights of this remaster is to hear how much sense Young Team makes in context, how much of the surrounding decade there is in it. That wonderful crunch, the innate sense of momentum and weight, picks up the legacy of Siamese Dream as much as that of Spiderland. The supple bass, the whirring pulse, the otherworldly twinkling are not exceptional in mid-'90s rock action; the nastiest guitar textures sounded a little thin compared to the low end of any Albini record of the era, and still do. Sound to sound, Young Team does not advance anything radical or even unpredictable, just assembles itself in a scarily complete way. “Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home” feels inevitable by now, but just listen to how much is going on in it.
The mythmaking comes from the other half of the album - the post half rather than the rock half. Song length, song titles, interlude placement, the weirdly passive-aggressive use of the human voice: this is the impression Young Team would have made even if its composition had been completely different. Mogwai move noise around like furniture, stage cat-and-mouse games between quiet and loud, and bookend stargazing epics with stoner backmasking tricks. There is an audacity about the album (see “With Portfolio,” which Cameron astutely calls “a gesture masquerading as a tune”) that may only be welcome because it seems authentic, because it happened before post-rock’s audacity was institutionalized. That unpredictability is what gives Young Team its personality, and what makes it exciting 10 years hence. Those cheeky, exploratory moves - the way the billowing sheets of noise in “With Portfolio” suddenly become a lilting ballad called “R U Still In 2 It,” the way the band is so eager to get to the second thunderous part of “Like Herod” that they come in a hair’s breadth too early - got less interesting after Mogwai proved they could be gotten away with.
Does the remastered edition succeed in making any of that larger? Only negligibly. It does offer a relatively pleasing “appendix” of b-sides (including “I Can’t Remember,” a bluesy vamp that sounds like an evil Bowery Electric jam), live recordings that emphasize how damn loud Mogwai play, and an agreeable cover of Spacemen 3’s “Honey.” The 10th anniversary is always a convenient time to cash in on a product by calling it a landmark, but this would have been a worthwhile celebration no matter when it happened. Young Team not only demonstrates the channel between Slint and Mono, but also validates, in spirit alone, a lot of what post-rock has long taken for granted. It’s about as close to a birth of the cool as this scene is going to get.back