Mogwai, ‘Atomic’ review

Forgery-proof is one of the best adjectives I’ve heard used to describe Mogwai, Glasgow’s incontestable post-rock pioneers. Having created and shaped a signature sound that is so much their own, a Frankenstein’s monster of celestial, cinematic beauty, imitators run rather than shy away.

With ‘Atomic’, regarded as their ninth album ‘proper’, the band conjure up 48 mins of aural stimulus that has the supreme quality of sonically contextualising its subject matter, the nuclear age.

The ten songs here mirror a journey from feat to the grandiose, the angry to the melancholic, as the band bear the fruits of a pursuit towards an unexpected, yet thoroughly welcome, electronic and synth sound, set against the visual narrative of Marc Cousin’s bold documentary; images of MRI scans and X-rays juxtaposed with Hiroshima, Chernobyl and the horrors of nuclear devastation.

It’s high praise indeed that the band, who, being fully aware of their own proximity to Faslane submarine base and long-time CND supporters, are able to, through the power of their music, craft a sense of scrutiny and contemplation of the nuclear age that oscillates between reverence towards the immense change to our lives against the power of destruction it has brought on us.

As regards to soundtrack duties, we know before a ball is kicked that we are in safe hands, with ‘Atomic’ coming off the back of the majestic artistry that was 2006’s Zidane: a 21ST Century Portrait and the enduring, haunting score for French zombie noir show Les Revenants in 2013.

Stuart Braithwaite’s scything guitar talus –so much part of the Mogwai sound – takes a back seat as buzzing synths and electronic touches, backed by brooding percussion, populate the 10 tracks that make up ‘Atomic’, from the glittering, hopeful opener ‘Ether’ (with French horn added to the mix), through to the solemn, pondering piano infused ‘Fat Man’.

SCRAM sees Berlin based Barry Burns’s vintage synth tones come alive to dystopian, kaleidoscopic effect, while the thick, powerful waves of the stunning ‘Bitterness Centrifuge’ embody a soaring, siren-like feel.

The equally impressive follow up ‘U-235’ (the chemical term for uranium) sees the band verge into broody electro-Kraut dream pop, sharply contrasted with the death march drone of Pripyat.

The ominous quality and feel continues with ‘Weak Force’ and ‘Little Boy’, seeing the band emanate a bleak, muted and moody sound reminiscent of a John Carpenter theme before ‘Are You A Dancer?’ and ‘Tzar’ return us to territory not to distant from Mogwai’s post-rock roots – the former’s hauntingly beautiful violin rendering it a highlight on the album.

Atomic further reinforces the capacity Mogwai have to create sonic soundscapes that permits for a measured introspection the likes of which only Mogwai can do. A band who, just shy of 21 years together, maintain a level of experimentation and exploration of new sounds that underscore their superlative musicianship, one which reiterates something we have known for years, that Mogwai are masters of their art.

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