Young Team
Chemikal Underground

It’s been nearly 11 years since Mogwai’s debut full-length was birthed upon the world (by Jetset in the U.S. and on Chemikal Underground, the issuers of the newly expanded deluxe version, in England), and it’s important to remember the context into which it came. Britpop was still very much the rage, though Radiohead’s OK Computer was certainly signaling a change in the weather. While Mogwai had begun to make a name for themselves with some singles and an EP, there wasn’t much precedence for their debut. Sure, sources of inspiration (My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, etc.) could be named, but in this time before Sigur Rós and Godspeed! You Black Emperor, this record of largely instrumental post-rock was truly unique.

The real testament to Young Team’s quality, though, is how little it has diminished. While Mogwai has refined its sound, softening in the process, and hit highpoints coming from other directions, this was the band’s first gremlin of a record. And the deluxe version’s improved fidelity only helps prove it. Recorded amidst tension within the band and between Mogwai and producer Paul Savage, the album is a beast relentlessly struggling against its confines. Beginning with the slow-moving “Yes! I Am a Long Way from Home,” which accurately claims, “Music is bigger than words and wider than pictures,” the album unsuspectingly shifts to one of the band’s finest moments, “Like Herod.” Here the Scots’ prowess is on full display, intricately crafting a song that needs no words for its emotional heft. From a lilting melody, the band throws down the gauntlet, or more accurately, a sledgehammer, suddenly bursting into a sonic firestorm of guitar rage. If ever a song deserved its near 12 minutes, this is it.

But if “Like Herod” was all there was worthy of mention, Young Team would just be an initial sketch of the Mogwai that was to come. Instead, the band already had a developed sense of self. The sampled conversations lurking below the maelstrom of “Katrien,” are just another texture in the band’s audio arsenal. Similarly, the band is able to squeeze motifs like that of “Like Herod” into the three and a half minutes of “Summer (Priority Version).” And when Mogwai does finally give a voice to its music, former Arab Strap mumbler Aidan Moffat on “R U Still in 2 It,” it seems more like a break in the discourse the record has already been conducting with itself.

With the hindsight of the last decade, it seems reasonable to say that had Mogwai never gone onto greater success, Young Team would still be an album worth revering. This is more than simple, intellectualized rock noodling; this is the revelation of rock as more than three chords and a chorus. By avoiding words, the band was able to take their sound and make it a language—and something bigger.
Stephen Slaybaugh