Long Distance Calling are everything that Mogwai wants to be and can't exactly accomplish. They artfully blend elements of progressive rock, post-metal and even alternarock into a result that works so perfectly that it's nothing short of sublime. They've had two prior releases to this album: their debut album Satellite Bay in 2007 and their follow-up Avoid the Light in 2009. While both releases are excellent, Satellite Bay is a bit too raw and unrefined. Avoid the Light, however, was in almost every respect a perfect release, and certainly amongst the best offerings post-rock has to offer. This naturally left expectations for a follow-up very high.
That follow-up, Long Distance Calling, is actually a pretty enjoyable record. The opening track “Into the Black Wide Open” in particular showcases the songwriting that makes these guys such an excellent band, even if the intro sound clips are a little awkward. “Timebends” also features some intensely groovy riffwork that is guaranteed to get your head bobbing. The track “Middleville” features guest John Bush (Anthrax, Armored Saint) on the vocals, and it sounds absolutely wonderful. It has almost a nineties grunge feel to it, and it's certainly one of the highlights of Long Distance Calling's career.
Despite all of the enjoyable moments, a lot of the time this album isn't as strong as their previous efforts. “Invisible Giants,” for example, is unusually lacklustre, and “Arecibo (Long Distance Calling)” is rather cookie-cutter by their standards. “The Figrin D'an Boogie” also contains some of the weakest material on the album, mostly focused on the opening half. It's especially disappointing because its penultimate riff is actually the best on the album.
That's actually a common theme amongst the pieces on this album. While the songs themselves are still on the stronger end, a lot of the time they feel disjointed or disconnected, like an assemblage of riffs rather than a full piece. It's a subtle complaint, yes, but it certainly impacts my enjoyment of the album as a whole.
There is a special edition of the album that contains a second disc of live material. I personally haven't heard it, but it contains a great selection of their earlier tracks from Satellite Bay and Avoid the Light that will help newcomers get acclimated to the band's sound.
Though it's not quite as inspired as Avoid the Light and not quite as gripping as Satellite Bay, Long Distance Calling is still a fine record, and is certainly one of the better offerings for progressive rock fans this year.
7.5 / 10
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