By Andrew Howie
Scottish post-rock outfit Mogwai, currently in their 21st year of existence, have consistently been ranked one of the top post-rock groups around today. They have constantly expanded their sound, even doing away with vocals for a considerable portion of their output and bringing in various keyboardists, violinists, drummers, etc., to create an ever-changing style. Not only that, but they’ve been involved with film soundtracks as well, such as 2006’s Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (a film shot from the perspective of Zinedine Zidane). Their latest work, however, is a little different in its focus.
Atomic is something else. As the soundtrack for a film analyzing the Hiroshima attack, the scope of the music is vast, emotive, and full of depth. Like a good portion of Mogwai’s work, there are no vocals, which is fitting in this case. Without lyrics to focus on, you can really dig into the meat of the music here, and it is some kind of feast. The music demands your attention with its confidence, perfect phrasing, and wonderfully dramatic composition.
Discussing this album track by track would honestly do it a disservice, as it obviously has a central theme and subject matter. If you check it out, you should listen to it straight through, uninterrupted. The effect is amazing and it’s some of the best post-rock I’ve heard in a while. It basically sounds like a mashup of Godspeed! You Black Emperor, “The Planets” by Gustav Holst, and massive industrial extraterrestrial music.
As the album moves along, it begins to shift noticeably in tone, going from optimistic and hopeful to a more melancholy sensibility, with patient, creeping tension. Soft melodies drift in and out of the main motif, lending their voices to the growing cacophony. Guitars waver with uncertainty as the keys wash over the colossal soundscape, and the pace never seems to quicken, only increase in volume and drama. However, it never gets tedious or boring; each song builds to an incredible peak before falling away into space. Eventually some Krautrock and classical music meet up, with waterfalling violins drooping over Floyd-esque guitar shrugs. Bleak piano notes cry out in the void as menacing undertones lurk underneath, and the last ferocious summit gives way to nothing.
Listening to Atomic is the first time in a long time that I truly felt like I went on a trip while listening to an album. At 48:30 long, it’s just long enough to be captivating and spellbinding without demanding too much out of your day. If you’re into ambient music that crushes while simultaneously uplifting your soul, I highly recommend this album. Happy listening!
Rating 9 out of 10