Mogwai return to supporting role on Atomic

AtomicAh, the soundtrack. Chances are your favourite band (or their increasingly disengaged guitarist) has indulged in a 40-minute laptop sojourn around a documentary about Indonesian sloth wrestling, before skulking back to the day job of arguing about drum fills. 10 years pass, and everyone quietly accepts that it happened without having to ever talk about it again. Not so for Mogwai, whose 2006 accompaniment to Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait was considered such a triumph - and rightly so - that they wheeled it out for a string of dedicated live dates seven years later. 2013 also saw the band soundtrack French drama Les Revenants and find time for an 8th studio album, Rave Tapes. Now they're back to score Atomic: Living In Dread And Promise, documentarian Mark Cousins' sobering insight into the horrors and anxiety of the nuclear age.

It probably helps that Mogwai's economy of style naturally complements the requirements of a soundtrack album. Though the band themselves openly reject the 'post-rock' label, they certainly lean towards the kind of expansive, slow-build, mostly-instrumental guitar pieces that have come to define the genre. "Ether" certainly fits that mould, introducing the album in utterly majestic fashion, horns adding a level of pomp to the piece. However, alongside penultimate rock blowout "Tzar", it remains a dazzling beacon of light in an ocean of pitch-black paranoia. "SCRAM" is carried along by propulsive dub shudders, a bad trip of a song, as befitting the bleak subject matter. Indeed, it seems that Stuart Braithwaite and co. have done their research: as well as visiting the Hiroshima Peace Park on their travels, the track names offer subtle references to the various 20th century catastrophes. "Pripyat" carries a faintly Arabic lilt, and alludes to the abandoned city of the Chernobyl disaster; elsewhere the more classic Mogwai sounds of "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" refer to the names of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively.

As with most projects of this nature, there is an almost impossible balance to be struck. Brian Eno's famous quote regarding ambient music - that it should be "as ignorable as it is interesting" - is arguably relevant here, too. By definition, the purpose of a soundtrack is supplementary, designed to accommodate the ebbs and flows of a more arresting primary piece. In this respect, Atomic can be chalked up as a Pyrrhic victory; one cannot help but imagine the devastating imagery summoned by this recording, and yet the listener pines for the artist's own formidable character to play a more commanding lead.

Release: 1st April 2016, Rock Action Records


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