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A review of...
Atomic by Mogwai
How should one judge a Mogwai soundtrack album? Is it right to view it as a new Mogwai album at all, or as something slightly different? After all, it does sound remarkably like the great Scottish instrumental pioneers, the calling cards are there, but at the same time – and presumably because its almost written to a brief – it doesn’t quite follow on the line of progression that evidently runs through their major / full albums as we know them. High praise, through various voices, has been heaped on the way the band have developed and crafted their idiosyncratic sound over those outings, and whilst maybe the film score “Zidane : a 21st century portrait” sits in that chronology as a thematic stepping stone to “Hawk is howling”, “Atomic : a soundtrack” feels more like a step-backward to Zidane, not a step further-on from their magnificent last album, 2014’s “Rave tapes”. Perhaps that’s not particularly surprising though – where the album-making arm of Mogwai goes next is a rather tantalising prospect, but it’s maybe safe to say that however that next progression manifests itself, it probably wouldn’t be useable as a soundtrack to a richly visual history of Atomic power? This instead is Mogwai making background music, happy to play second fiddle to reel after reel of remarkably powerful and age-evocative footage. Footage of which there is no need to equal the impact of. They do a superb job then of backing it up, the music is in equal parts of wonder and trepidation – it does well to convey what must have been great hope and wonder that came with the discoveries and new opportunities at the birth of the nuclear age; conversely it also makes a fair stab at musically representing a sense of our subsequent fear, suspicion and despair of nuclear power and the numerous disasters which signpost our historical relationship with atomic fusion. All goes to prove that when their given a brief, Mogwai are a safe pair of hands.
"Ether" - recognisably Mogwai in structure and sound, with a gorgeous sweeping progression running throughout
"Pripyat" - possibly the most doom-laden track on here, and so perhaps idiosyncratically Mogwai as a consequence. About the abandoned town near the Chernobyl fall-out, which says it all really.