Two years on from their engrossing eighth studio album Rave Tapes, the Scottish post-rock four-piece slip back into their comfort zone, however this time, soundtracking Mark Cousins’ archival film documentary, Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise. Rave Tapes offered an array of intense and psychedelic songs, from ‘Remurdered’, to the haunting ‘No Medicine for Regret’. These songs embodied some of Mogwai’s most expansive audio landscapes to date. Similar dynamics can be found throughout Atomic, although the tones have progressed on this current full-length.
Atomic encapsulates Cousins’ nonlinear documentary, which is no mean feat, given that there are very few interviews and little narration to contextualise it. The experimental documentary explores the legacy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb and Mogwai provide a poignant soundtrack to these atrocities of the last century. As the documentary has no well-defined narrative, it feels like you are watching a feature length Mogwai music video at times, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
The soundtrack eases into life with the twinkling intro to ‘Ether’, one of the stand out songs on the album. Drone-like guitar riffs accompany stunning melodies, which makes for a mesmerising listen. ‘Scram’ kicks the album into overdrive early on, with an intense frenzy of staggered synth lines, creating a menacing siren effect throughout the song.’U-235′ continues in the same vein with hypnotic synth beats, conjuring up images of a dystopian world. When the apocalypse does arrive, the disconcerting sway of ‘Pripyat’ would be the perfect track to listen to through headphones as you watch it all unfold – a truly horrifying composition. ‘Are You a Dancer’ is the most striking song on the soundtrack, with staggering string-laden melodies, which act as a calming effect after the chaos which preceded it. ‘Bitterness Centrifuge’ and ‘Tzar’ have an old school Mogwai feel to them, layered with exuberant guitar riffs and breathtaking melodies. Moments like these on the soundtrack are extremely refreshing, as they show us that the band have not veered too far away from their post-rock roots.
Even while listening to the album without the visual aid of the documentary, the mind can wander and create galaxies and multiverses unbeknownst to mankind. The intricate guitar work, juxtaposed with prominent synth usage and anthemic drums, make for a compelling listen. Some fans may be a touch disappointed with the lack of heavy, shred riffs – which feature heavily on previous albums, and the band have certainly not reached the heights of Young Team or Come On Die Young – there are however certain inherent qualities that remain, which will undoubtedly captivate listeners. It’s good to have The Glaswegians back building colossal walls of noise.