Review of Atomic Album by Mogwai

Tomorrow sees the release of Mogwai's ninth album, "Atomic". An album of reworked songs from the score to last year's BBC Storyville film -  Atomic: Living in Fear and Dread. Mogwai refine their new, more electronic sound for a somber reflection on nuclear warfare.

Mogwai Atomic Album

Mogwai, like many other post-rock bands, often push the more cinematic, narrative elements throughout their albums, which makes scoring movies a logical move. Mogwai's first foray into scoring was Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait which was ten years ago. Since then, aside from their own efforts, they have worked on Daran Aronofasky's The Fountain and the recent tv series The Revenant. In this case, Mogwai's music embellishes the dystopic tone of the archive footage and highlights the urgent message of disarmament behind the project.

Given that context, it might be surprising to find that its title track, "Ether" is one of Mogwai's brighter, more uplifting moments. This song accompanies the first chapter of the film. Which celebrates the development of organic life throughout evolution. These proud tones build from gentle muted notes welcoming a long, brass crescendo which explodes in true Mogwai style.

The tone changes dramatically for the main bulk of the album. These tracks offer moody and sinister sonic environments. These are strongly embellished by Mogwai's use of synths and other electronic techniques.  The band refined this sound over their last couple releases, particularly 2014's Rave Tapes, although in this case they use these elements more conservatively, striking a balance with their more traditional rock style. 

Penultimate track "Tzar" seems to lift the album atmospherically, exchanging the sparse, sinister tone in a bright and energetic climax. Closer "Fat Man" brings it back down with chilling piano melodies. Atomic commands your attention throughout, and still is perhaps more evocative than their previous works, at least within its context. Atomic is not beautiful or sublime as much of their earlier work has been considered, but it is very visceral and confident throughout.

Last year marked the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it's safe to say that the band have some pretty personal feelings towards the bomb. Stuart Braithwaite commented "ever since we went to Hiroshima to play and visited the peace park this has been a subject very close to us" this comes across through the soundtracks narrative, which starts a lot more optimistically than it seeks to go on. Overall, the respectively diverse environments evoked throughout the soundtrack are equally visceral, while managing to diverge completely in tone.

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