Inspiration is the key to all great art. Without it, it becomes directionless, and serves little purpose. The right inspiration, in the right hands, can create something truly brilliant.
This is just such the case with Mogwai’s stunning new album Atomic, an album which follows the band’s 20th Anniversary. Created as a soundtrack to the equally brilliant documentary of the same name, Atomic’s vast sonic landscapes and jittery sense of urgency are a perfect match for the danger and uncertainty of the documentary’s musings on nuclear power and its implications.
From the get go, this album soars. The uplifting tone of Ether, with its twinkling keys and staccato bass, perfectly mirrors the optimism of the nuclear age, whilst much of the rest of the tracks act as a stark contrast to this. Paranoia, power and the fear of untimely destruction are woven into the throbbing synth bass lines and ethereal keyboards that twinkle throughout tracks such as ‘U-235’ and ‘Weak Force’.
The album is as intoxicating as it is varied, pulling off delicacy and violence with total ease. French Horn and Violin on tracks like ‘Ether’ and ‘Are You A Dancer?’ provide a gentle relief from the growling textures of the more intense tracks like ‘Scram’. Some may find the steady build of the tracks tiring, but it’s worth your patience. Beautifully mixed as ever, full of fantastic music (and titles too; ’Bitterness Centrifuge’ is a particular favourite), there’s a lot to love about this project.
But this is not merely Mogwai pumping out a soundtrack. This album showcases real improvements to the band’s delivery. The inclusion of some of the more electronic elements of 2014’s Rave Tapes feel far more integrated into the arrangement this time around, and the blend of natural and electronic percussion works especially well, especially in consideration of the source material; just such a meld of natural and synthetic elements goes on in science.
Though there’s the odd moment where a track might seem to drag, overall this is a fantastically varied, highly intelligent album, full of levity and also foreboding. It’s a strong showing that again confirms Mogwai to be modern masters of their art.