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Government Commissions (BBC Sessions 1996-2003)

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Album Review

Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996 — 2003 collects some of Mogwai's best performances on John Peel and Steve Lamacq's programs. The compilation's track selections are inspired: taking two songs from each of the band's albums (except Rock Action, from which only "Secret Pint" appears here) and a handful of tracks from their mid-'90s EPs, Government Commissions gives a good idea of how Mogwai's sound evolved. Pieces like 4 Satin's "Superheroes of BMX" and "New Paths to Helicon Pt I" reflect the band's spare, elongated early work, while "Hunted By a Freak" and "Stop Coming to My House," both of which are from 2003's Happy Songs for Happy People and bookend Government Commissions, are lush, dense and shimmering. The album's sequencing also underscores the band's mastery of dynamics. It builds from subtly taut tracks like "R U Still In 2 It" and "Kappa" to the album's centerpiece, an 18-minute version of "Like Herod" that shows off the song's tense quiet and beautifully ugly guitar mayhem, and then winds down with more reflective songs. The album's live atmosphere, which includes voice-overs from the much-missed Peel, adds to its organic ebb and flow, which is all the more remarkable considering that it spans seven years' worth of performances. Though die-hard Mogwai fans are probably the most likely to pick this up, Government Commissions works so well that it could also double as a Mogwai greatest-hits collection — something that can't be said about many other live compilations.

Biography

Formed: 1996 in Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The cosmic post-rock band Mogwai were formed in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1996 by guitarist/vocalist Stuart Braithwaite, guitarist Dominic Aitchison, and drummer Martin Bulloch, longtime friends with the goal of creating "serious guitar music." Toward that end, they added another guitarist, John Cummings, before debuting in March 1996 with the single "Tuner," a rarity in the Mogwai discography for its prominent vocals; the follow-up, a split single with Dweeb titled "Angels vs. Aliens," landed in the...
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