Mogwai - Atomic

Scottish noise terrorists Mogwai return with their latest full lengther, following 2014's Rave Tapes with a reworking of the soundtrack they produced for the Mark Cousins BBC4 documentary Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise. The band’s cinematic sound is obvious from the first moment you hear them and film-makers have long capitalised on this with soundtrack work for Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, The Fountain, and French zombie show Les Revenants. In contrast, Atomic is a more varied beast. Cousins’ archival footage charts the rise of the nuclear age from Hiroshima to present day highlighting the fear and dread of The Cold War, but also the hopeful wonder of voyage and discovery. Their latest embraces these two conflicting ideals and expresses them perfectly without a word uttered.

Musically, Atomic takes it cues from the Mogwai back catalogue by skilfully incorporating the mournful guitar work of second album Come On Die Young with the synthesiser work of Rave Tapes. Opening track ‘Ether’ sets the tone, a positively uplifting track replete with twinkling synth work, horns, and piano but underneath a dull and barely audible drone. It's almost as if it were recorded in a nuclear bunker after the bomb has dropped, but filled with the hope that humanity will carry on. Elsewhere these themes of hope and fear are tackled with great effect, such as the planetary orbit of synth heavy ‘SCRAM’, the robotic piano ballad of ‘Weak Force’, the bittersweet violin and guitar duet of ‘Are You A Dancer?’, and album closer ‘Fat Man’ swelling to its climax before cutting to silence – the last broadcast from civilization as we know it. Fans of the piercing feedback of the Glaswegian's earlier work may be disappointed with the quieter ethereal work on show. However, Atomic takes it subject matter of human scientific innovation, with all of its dizzying highs and terrifying pitfalls, and crafts it into a compelling narrative and allowing that to take centre stage.


Ethereal brilliance for the atomic age


out of 10
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