Mogwai – Atomic

2015 saw the release of Mogwai’s excellent compilation ‘Central Belters’, a neat summation and celebration of twenty years at the forefront of the Post Rock genre. It highlighted a slowly evolving growth in their sound, from the early days as ear shredding noise terrorists to the more restrained, less explosive flavourings of 2013’s ‘Rave Tapes’. As part of this evolution, their music became increasingly cinematic and the potential for lucrative soundtrack work was always on the cards.

2006 marked their first significant foray into this market; ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait’ raised the bands profile but it was their work on the soundtrack to acclaimed French supernatural TV series ‘Les Revenants’  in 2013 that demonstrated just how well suited they were for work of this nature.

Atomic is a re-worked version of their soundtrack to documentary ‘Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise’ pretentiously described by the BBC as “…an impressionistic kaleidoscope of our nuclear times”.  The music doesn’t instantly conjure up images of death and destruction or the full scale of the horror of Hiroshima. Instead, it sounds like a natural follow up to Rave Tapes – for all intents and purposes, it sounds like just another Mogwai album.

If that sounds like a criticism, it should not be taken as such – it is arguably their most consistent and cohesive album since ‘Happy Songs for Happy People’ back in 2003. That said, Mogwai have now reached a stage where you feel they could churn out albums like this in their sleep; they continue to tinker with the recipe, but the result is always defiantly Mogwai–esque.

‘Ether’ is the aural equivalent of the time lapse capture of a flower blooming; it is also one of the most optimistic sounding tracks the band have ever recorded, twinkling and fluttering with a lightness of touch not often associated with the Scottish Post Rock kingpins. It’s on the trio of tracks midway through the record where they really hit their stride – ‘Pripyat’, ‘Weak Force’ and ‘Little Boy’ light up the album with that monolithic Mogwai force – ominous synth lines and those repetitive circular riffs brings us back to the darker margins where the band are at their most effective.

Atomic will undoubtedly appeal to fans who stuck with them when they ditched the quiet –loud-quiet formula some time back, but it does sound like music made in the comfort zone.  After 20 years of carving their own path, there is a definite sense that they have mastered the art of being Mogwai – there are no longer any surprises.  Maybe it’s time to throw away the blueprint and start again – for now though, Atomic provides a worthy addition to a solid body of work.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)