Mogwai penned Atomic as the soundtrack to Mark Cousin’s documentary Atomic: Living In Dread And Promise which was released summer 2015. The record consists or reworks of the original pieces into an album pieces, and are explorative, electronic, slowed down and krautrock inspired. Atomic is also the first release since becoming a four piece.
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And so continues the long Norman tradition of not watching the thing the soundtrack was for. ‘Atomic’ is yet another score by Mogwai, the same notorious Band Who Can’t Help Themselves who were baited into making music to follow Zinedine Zidane around with. This soundtrack goes after a different kind of documentary, one about the atomic world that scopes out both war and scientific advancement. The band begin their score with a deceptive offering of post-rock beauty, “Ether” bustling with fuzzed guitar rawk and monolithic French horn arrangements so ascendent you can almost feel the plants growing below your feet.
Mogwai’s infatuation with glitch pop and squeaking electronics is not unwelcome here: “SCRAM” matches programmed beats with tinkering acoustic percussion and a lilting ambience a la Tangerine Dream, suggesting a climax while sort of pre-emptively arriving at it. It’s sort of like “White Noise” if you took the people out of the equation and submerged the music in hot water -- it’s less emotive, but eventually reaches for the same screeching crescendo. “Bitterness Centrifuge” opens on the kind of Tim Hecker noise drone that loves to scatter around one’s ears, but a dooming drumbeat lands callously onto proceedings and makes it distinctly Mogwai.
As moody as your average Mogwai record, it’s best to treat the tunes on ‘Atomic’ as their own set-pieces, similar in terms of their post-rock dynamic (a long build, eventually dangled off the edge), but significant to particular moments of the documentary. “Weak Force” takes a synth melody, suspends it and then brings in nimble beats a la 65daysofstatic, and though it’s patter is hella obvious, it’s still an incredibly involving piece of music. Frankly, this record is so great because it’s so familiar, in whatever shade of Mogwai it’s honing: my favourite happens to be “Are You A Dancer?”, a slightly countrified take on their CODY sound that proves both their excellence in consistency and their knack for slight, reserved musical advancements.
Nothing in their sound is quite as ground-breaking as the subject of this documentary, but it sounds good, and I’m into things sounding good.
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