The 20th Century cracked Pandora’s Box wide open. With the creation of nuclear weaponry all hell threatened to break loose. Capturing the air of tremendous progress and terror, the Scottish post-rock band, Mogwai, has developed an incredibly intense, soundscape packed album, Atomic. This latest release is a reworked soundtrack to the documentary broadcasted by the BBC and directed by Mark Cousins, “Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise.” Every composition is a beautifully atmospheric experience.
Atomic isn’t exactly the typical album for a band, but by all means foreseeable for Mogwai. Fans of the band will be equally familiar with their similar, previous endeavors. But not getting caught up on the details, let it be known, the band put their all into this one and it shows. Put the headphones on and press play, Atomic will thrust you into another world.
The majority of songs tend to appropriately balance levels of texture, with key melodies played across a variety of instrumental voices. Mogwai employs the use of electronic sounds, as well as an incredible amount of effects. Simply put, the band stops at nothing to produce the perfect sound. “Ether,” which kicks the album off, is friendly enough –inviting the listener to delve in. Guitar accompanies the building percussion, the electronic twinkles. Horns lead the song further and build a sensation of significance. Like many of Atomic’s tracks, “Ether,” utilizes every moment to build the ambiance. By the time the second song, “SCRAM,” rolls around, it’s hard not to be immersed. “SCRAM,” features a variety of oscillating lines –all electronic. There’s something uneasy and empty about the song –maybe lifeless. This is the magic, the atmosphere of Atomic. With the namesake of a nuclear shutdown, “SCRAM,” almost gives off vibes of the complex architecture of a reactor. From the beginning, song after song, Mogwai conveys a variety of intense and eerie feelings.
In some ways, it may be unfair to say this, but Atomic really is most enjoyable when played in full. The entire emotional journey, as each song presents a different aspect of complexity, is a pretty overwhelming experience. If you allow the album to truly be removed and judged for contents’ sake alone, the picture changes a bit. Certain melodies or atmospheric bleeps and bloops can become trite. Ominous songs that sound so generically familiar it’s disappointing. And it may not even be worth it to call the songs bad, but, even reworked it’s evident that Atomic is meant to serve a distinct purpose. On a blind listen, it would just be difficult to suggest Atomic to a Mogwai fanatic.
But even if Mogwai designed Atomic to be a soundtrack, it’s not just a soundtrack to a documentary. Atomic is a soundtrack to a major issue –one of humanity’s biggest questions of rationality. Mogwai didn’t skimp, they treated Atomic with a special grace. The musical ability still shows through. The layers of texture are often what turn songs into worlds, and the melodies that develop across such eclectic voices are satisfying. I’ll even go so far as to say that Mogwai made a few tracks very worth remembering.
“Tzar,” the second to last track of the album, is golden. The song begins with distortion, the sound of electric fuzz defining a melody note by note. The percussion hits. Layer after layer of texture is laid out. Guitars find their way in, developing a line even the post-centric will appreciate. Hearing each voice interweave and then boom, climax, percussive hit and intensifying melodies –textures blending. It’s hard to imagine that, amongst the entire forty-eight minute listen, somebody wouldn’t find something they enjoyed.
Conclusion? Atomic is good –in so far that it provides a fantastic experience that recreates the atmosphere of the dawn of the nuclear age. On the other hand, if you come expecting strings and the typical post-rock buildups, there may be something to be desired –the album may lack a little extra spice. Regardless, Mogwai’s Atomic is a heartache of a listen. Mogwai has paid tribute and reverence to the significance of all too recent history –and they’ve done a pretty fine job at it. Atomic won’t be for everyone. Be it the nature of the album, or even the depth of intensity behind it. But, if you’re looking for a complex, emotional listen –Atomic isn’t a bad bet.