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Mogwai - KIN: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Music Album Reviews

The Scottish group’s action flick soundtrack lacks their usual maximalist peaks but offers impressionistic sketches.

KIN is a movie about a futuristic bazooka that can blast walls out of buildings and instantly turn people into dust. The music of Mogwai has been known to do the same. But as the Scottish group have amassed enough soundtrack credits to qualify as the four-headed Hans Zimmer of indie rock, Mogwai’s film scores have typically avoided their more anarchic tendencies in favor of their more ambient, meditative qualities. And while KIN marks the band’s first dalliance with a mainstream Hollywood action flick after a handful of documentary and art-house efforts, their soundtrack ultimately emphasizes a subtlety not so readily gleaned from the Comic-Con-courting poster campaign.

For all its explosions, shootouts, and motorcycle-riding aliens, KIN is essentially a gritty domestic drama about a poor Detroit family that’s still reeling from the death of its matriarch when eldest son Jimmy (Jack Reynor) returns home after several years in prison and tries to mend his estranged relationship with his grizzled construction-worker dad (Dennis Quaid). Caught in the middle is Eli (Myles Truitt), the 14-year-old adopted son who discovers the aforementioned killer gizmo while out scavenging for scrap metal, and sets the film’s road-trip narrative in motion.

KIN was made by the same production team that gave us “Stranger Things,” and at the outset, the film shares certain characteristics with the retro-’80s Netflix series—not the least of which is a young, curious protagonist who spends his free time tooling around town on a BMX. But it’s not until around 20 minutes into the film that you realize KIN is actually set in the present day—if Eli’s Detroit stomping grounds have a distinctly ’80s feel, it’s only because economic stagnation has frozen his neighbourhood in time. Likewise, Mogwai’s score leans heavily on the sinister electro-prog synths that have been a regular presence of their sound since 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, but have since become an instant ’80s-flick shorthand thanks to S U R V I V E’s “Stranger Things” theme. However, if KIN’s sudden shifts between conversational, coming-of-age tale and blow-‘em-up summer blockbuster can feel as jarring as the infamous quiet/loud shocks the defined Mogwai’s signature records, the band’s soundtrack ultimately plays more of a mediating role. Subtly fusing synthetic elements with naturalistic touches, their score is the unifying element in a film that plays like The Terminator as made by the Duplass Brothers.

So while a piece like “Scrap” sets an ominous scene with its reverberating, tremolo-like effects, soon a melancholic piano melody and brushed-snare drum beat thaw away the icy atmosphere. “Flee” follows the same playbook to loftier heights, as its circular piano pattern ascends a spiral-staircase atop a juddering foundation of glitchy beats. Throughout the soundtrack, the piano comes to represent the human heart at the core of KIN’s outlandish narrative—tellingly, “Eli’s Theme” lionizes the film’s protagonist with an isolated, ivory-tickled refrain that, like the character, exudes a nervous tension while standing resolute in the face of unforgiving conditions.

But however well they reflect KIN’s mood and themes, these pieces don’t quite cohere into a proper stand-alone album. Independent of the film, they feel more like a series of impressionistic sketches that tease at the eruptions of Mogwai’s definitive work, yet stop short of hitting their maximalist potential. Even the more fleshed-out songs—like the stalking, organ-guided movement “Guns Down” and the dramatic, ethereal-to-orchestral leaps of the title track—ultimately err on the side of restraint, respectively using their thunderclouds of distortion and needling oscillations more as subliminal textures than focal points.

If Mogwai don’t hit their usual peaks here, they at least lead us to some pleasurable plateaus: “Donuts” begins with the sort of dreamy synth swells that typically trigger an EDM banger, but instead embark on a splendorous, slow-motion space-rock cruise. And following the lead of recent breakthroughs like “Teenage Exorcists” and “Party in the Dark,” Mogwai use the film’s closing credit theme, “We’re Not Done,” to further indulge their latent desire to be a shoegazing pop band. As the soundtrack’s lone vocally driven, conventionally-structured rock track, “We’re Not Done” is a glaring anomaly, yet arguably, it’s the track that’s truest to the film’s spirit. After all, KIN may not actually be an ’80s film, but it’s clearly inspired by the era’s multiplex popcorn thrillers and adapts their tropes to a contemporary context. Likewise, with “We’re Not Done,” Mogwai vividly realize a goth-club fantasy of My Bloody Valentine covering the Cure that uncannily blurs the line between past and present.


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