HESO Magazine

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Dybbuk, the dislocated soul of the dead, Illustration by Ephraim Moshe Lilien.

The Resurrection of Mogwai

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, (29) And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

                                                                                             — John 5:28-29

The story of Lazarus of Bethany, in the gospel of John, is well known among those followers and scholars of religious texts to confirm the last and most important of Jesus’ seven feats—the Resurrection—the lynchpin in the signs that point to his divinity and what his more zealous adherents would go on to use as justification of his continued relevance. Indeed it has become the central tenant of Christianity. It’s no lie, the defiance of death, the finger in the face of nature, tipping the scales of time, resurrection is a powerful idea. But, owning up to the very real scientific nature of the Lazarus phenomenon, and as its scarcity defines its high value, Lazarus—i.e. the dead coming back—is more potent as a metaphor, at least in terms of saleability, than as a reality. Who doesn’t want to live forever, or at least think they do?

No one in their right mind believes that it is possible today to raise the dead, but having a look around at the neo-evangelical fervor that has gripped the United States, and the power and reach of quasi-cult organizations like Scientology, it seems that many want to believe. The best-selling novel series Left Behind attests to this. Even those who claim atheism seem to be searching for something to believe in. What exactly is yet to be seen. Hence the popularity of the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and similarly genre’d Game of Thrones and the plethora of lesser quality copycat series based on a pastiche of fast and loose mythology and incorporating the Force, or some form of intangible “magic” as core form of guiding power. But what actual magic do we seek? Belief in a 2000 year-old Bronze Age John Lennon who preached peace and love? What say the followers of Yoda, Gandalf & Khalisi? What chance does Jesus, let alone, the rest of us have in the race to the final finish?

Jesus of Nazareth was not the first to be raised from the dead. Even Lazarus, who beat him to it, was not the first to be raised from the dead. If we remember our Greek mythology, both Achilles and Heracles (or Hercules, if you prefer) died and were resurrected, both after accomplishing a number of feats that pointed out to their contemporaries their own place in the pantheon of gods. Before them in the ancient near east, Baal and Osiris lead a motley crew of old-timey resurrections, presumably based upon their own predecessors reanimation as well. In short, resurrection is old school. But because it’s such a high gloss issue, it’s basic story line has stuck in our collective craws since before recorded history and became especially popular throughout the not-much-else-going-on middle ages.

The Resurrection of Mogwai

History of English Affairs

Take William of Newberg, whose 12th century work History of English Affairs depicts several instances of medieval revenants, those poor unbelieving criminal souls who didn’t quite make the cut in life and so, in death, come back, ostensibly, to haunt their their friends, family and associates. How irritating that they were shits when they were relatable corporeal humans, and after finally passing, they return—covered in dead people doodie—to do it all over again. If they embody the resurrection of damnation, who are the damned—us or them? Is it any wonder that vampyric legend out of 16th century Baltics became conflated with the peasant folklore of medieval British revenants—imagine their complexions. Ghastly indeed.

The Dybbuk, recently popularized in the Coen Brothers’ film, A Serious Man, is yet another form of revenant from Jewish mythology, a dislocated and parasitic soul cleaving to the living in order to right a wrong. Then there is the Draug, the animated corpse from Norse mythology, that has similar characteristics to humans (think the ring-wraiths from Lord of the Rings). The less popular Nachzehrer, a Germanic mixture of a vampire and ghost, begins to recall the reigning champ, the zombie.

Since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead spawned and popularized the genre of the reanimated undead, there are too many instances of zombie culture to name. It is its own universe now, seemingly a living entity whose evolution is written not from the mind of writers worldwide, but from a growing compilation of material from which to morph a collective unconscious of the undead.

Such seems to be the case with the new show Resurrection from Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment and ABC Studios, based on the eponymous novel by Jason Mott, which is apparently based on a dream the author had, and not the eerily similar 2012 Canal+ television show Les Revenants, itself an adaptation of the 2004 film Les Revenants by Robin Campillo, in which millions of French zombies return, not to eat le cerveau (brains), but to reintegrate into their former lives. How French, they just want their postprandial cheese. Is its likeness to the 2003 film Yomigaeri (Back From Hell) by Akihiko Shiota coincidental or a process of cross-cultural collectivity? Are we drawing from some vast unconscious pool of similar imagery for a reason or for commercial sales? Is this an evolution or a stagnation?

The Resurrection of Mogwai

The Resurrection of Mogwai

Mogwai live at 2009 Summer Sonic

The unclassifiable Scottish band Mogwai left me wanting circa their fifth full length album, Mr. Beast (Play It Again Sam, 2006), which also carries the dubious distinction of being the last compact disc I bought. The jewel case, dense with rich, disturbing decoration, included—beyond the actual disc itself—a booklet of paintings by the cover artist Amanda Church and a DVD of the Making Of Mr. Beast at their newly constructed Castle of Doom Studios in Edinburgh. I wanted more and I wanted less. More clarity and less feedback. While it still appeared that the band were, as a friend put it after their mediocre 2009 performance at the mediocre and rain-besieged Summer Sonic festival outside of Tokyo, “muddling about in their own piddle.” I could no longer hear the lovely and noisome progression of instrumental bliss I loved from Young Team (Chemikal Underground,1997), Come On Die Young (Chemikal Underground,1999), Rock Action (Matador, 2001), and Happy Songs For Happy People (Play It Again Sam, 2003). At the time it seemed that we had both emerged out of an extended adolescence and, like old loves often do, faded from one another’s lives. In their case it made sense that they had run out of sublime melodies to tear apart and put back together with guitar, drum and keys. In my case the fade caused them to disappear completely from my conscious mind. The age of the compact disk had joined the 8-track cassette in technology’s abandoned corner lot trash heap. So be it.

And so life goes on. And tastes progress. The older one becomes the harder it is to listen to bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, and Mogwai around others. The pretty parts are fine, orchestral, sublime and are made for sunny Saturday picnics by the lake, but soon the lilting melodies tend toward to the post-WWI musical DADA-ism of post-rock noise art. There is meaning there, there’s just no explaining it to the in-laws. It then becomes extremely situational listening, rarely being played on the family Bose system or being aired out only during the sporadic family drives to Joshua Tree or, heaven forbid, Texas.

Les Revenants - The past has decided to resurface

Les Revenants – The past has decided to resurface

The television heads have gotten wise to paying top dollar for indie rock songs to attract the ever-waning attention spans of twenty-somethings. Lorde, Fun., The Halo Benders (also, think Lou Reed’s death eerily coinciding with his song Perfect Day on a Playstation 4 ad) have all been lucratively synced, but it’s more than just a snippet of a single by the latest Coldplay-for-hires, this was “Coming Home – Part II” by Skylar Grey, a benign tune in itself, but when paired with ABC proselytizing wantonly sentimental and vaguely apocalyptic evangelical fodder, it turns the stomach. The promos for Resurrection are full of Jesus light and leave you feeling like you’ve douched with a dirty Mormon undergarment, while the Canal+ Les Revenants has the pristine lakes and pastoral forests with just enough of the dark and gritty feel of the subterranean backalleys of old wartorn Europe—the resurrection of life in contrast to resurrection of damnation. Though outwardly we strive for the former, it’s the latter that we secretly covet. Like, though coveted by all, the return of a long-missed loved one, is not right, and somehow, it’s all going to go horribly wrong. I hope that for ABC Studios & Plan B there are the seeds of a Walking Dead / World War Z planted deep within the bowels of Resurrection. If so it could be ABC’s next Lost.

Nausea, at least for me, has always implied a cure, a revolt against treacly ills of bad writing and religious indoctrination. Synapses firing, I searched through my folders of global television series unwatched for clues. It was then I happened on Les Revenants and my introduction to French zombies began. Cueing up the first episode you hear “Hungry Face”, the title track off of Mogwai’s 2013 soundtrack and you are sucked in by the familiar stroke of fret, combination of keys, and patter of drums, but moreover by the use of silence, pairing mercilessly with Fabrice Gobert’s stunning visuals which transcends mere television watching.

Does Mogwai make the series a success singlehandedly? No, but the meditative and mystery implied in the haunting tones sets the table nicely. Les Revenants is Young Team on Quaaludes. Subdued and at times ambivalent, it represents the more contemplative side of the band. The side that, behind the sheer wall of mind-numbing Marshall stack feedback, you always knew was there, but wondered how they could ever more fully explore that side. Discipline and restraint have supplanted the atonal choler that plagued various tedious middle-marches of albums past, leaving listeners awash in euphonious and dulcet tones that have transcended the mere physicality of instruments toward a diviner vibration. Laced with songs entitled “The Huts”, “Kill Jester”, “Eagle Tax”—which, despite their nonsensical titles, belie a narrative beyond the seeming nihilistic text (in some cases the series writers used their scores to write the series). One senses a denouement, an unfolding of a mystery, growth. This growth is most noticeably sublime when its power is wielded with authority rather than youthful angst. The erstwhile rage spun from delicate and brooding melodies that have garnered Mogwai avid audiences spanning multiple musical genres has matured into instrumental mastery.

The Resurrection of Mogwai

Rave Tapes – Sub Pop 2014

Their most recent release, Rave Tapes, continues where Revenants left off. “Heard About You Last Night” opens by demonstrating an almost austere Buddhist simplicity, yet they stake the territory of resonant clarity for grim abstinence. There is plenty of sex, but no pornography. The album’s waistband—“Remurdered”, “Hexon Bogon”, “Repelish” and “Master Card”—is thick with rigorous and meaty cuts of guitar-driven narrative backed by keys both luminous and mysterious. The swirling epic “Deesh” takes us to concise altitudes where only when the silence prevails can one hear the true framework of whitenoise, while the album’s closer and the first single “The Lord Is Out of Control” can play both as a hearkening toward and a recanting of tones as narrative progressions. Provocative mixing of electronic beats, organs, vocoders and ocean waves propel the multitude of inner monologues toward an attainment of true revelation through collective unconsciousness. Attaining musical excellence is one thing, yet the key to maintaining harmonious Nirvana is to not be happy, to never be satisfied with status quo achievements. To not be born again, but rather to have become. To be becoming.

In retrospect I guess I should have realized that it was the shitty acoustics of the concrete warehouse venue in which they played to 10000 middlingly stoned, distracted and overprivileged youths that made the 2009 show such a letdown. Summer Sonic is a good idea gone horribly astray from its hopefully humble intentions. Lord knows the amount of money they are paying decent musicians to come from across the world to play in a sweltering concrete convention pavilion. What’s worse they’ve convinced the youth of Japan that it is normal, good even, that they should see, not just a show, but cram multiple artists together under such conditions. If I am honest I will admit that I had grown apart from Mogwai on my own, but such a reunion can either reinvigorate a once mirthful love or push it farther afield. In my case Summer Sonic performed the latter. May the Lord Be Out Of Control On Thee, Summer Sonic.

Organized religion represents a trusted link to the mythology of the past, but if there is any kind of rough guide for living in the modern world, it must be film, for good or ill. Occasionally when we cut through the fog of dogma, and the two-faced stubbornness of politics we come to nuggets of wisdom, such as this, from the mouth of Celine, in the Richard Linklater classic Before Sunrise, “If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed, but…who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt.” Forget Gandalf, fuck zombies and screw loved ones back from the dead, these are Hollywood’s attempt to recreate more mind-numbing blather—that you’ve already seen—to entertain you to death while real life goes on all-around, and inside of, you. It’s not on the screen. It’s sitting next to you. The true magic is eye contact, the breath, community and connection. And I don’t mean WI-FI.


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  1. itllallendintears

    Don’t know if it’s ever safe to go back into threes things, but i dragged into mogwai by ‘Kicking a Dead Pig’ (apparently released in ’98!) and would terrorise passengers in my car at full volume on high speed trips down 101 & 280 south of San Francisco. Perhaps it was just my driving… Anyway, for me it’s as much about the atonal, the feedback, the aural abuse, as occasional strain and stain of beauty. It’s angry, desolate, music for banal times. Everything is sterile and conforming. The chaos and disregard for convention is a tiny liberation in a world that seeks to be grey goo.

    Oh, and there is a lovely theory that lazarus was a trail run for a short-term, coma inducing, drug that JC and the gang had mixed up for the actual resurrection performance piece. My first encounter with the theory was probably in Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Baigent & Leigh, but i doubt the idea is originally theirs.

  2. Mogwai had left me as numb as a duck fart on that wet summer day at Makuhari Messe, which was not the point I felt of where they intended aim of their sublime feedback. As for the theory that the Lazarus resurrection is all just a big Life of Brian play-act, well, that’s a book I must read then, unless of course it has been published by Dan Brown.

  3. itllallendintears

    If i’m not mistaken the authors of that book are the ones that tried to sue Dan Brown…

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