Mogwai : Atomic

I have to admit, it took me a while to find my way to Mogwai. Even after seeing them in 2004 during an ear-shattering assault that left a good friend of mine and I stunned and shell shocked at the Curiosa Festival I still just could never bring myself to dig deeper into these Scottish post-rockers. But on a whim in late 2010 I picked up The Hawk Is Howling and everything changed for me. Songs like “Scotland’s Shame”, “Batcat”, and “The Sun Smells Too Loud” took me into Mogwai’s world. Ever since that afternoon in 2004 when my senses were violated by jet engine-volume distortion shrieks and feedback squalls for nearly 10 minutes I assumed these Scottish dudes were the equivalent of artsy noisemakers for noisemaking’s sake. Sonic blustering just to provoke. Turns out I was completely off base.

The Hawk Is Howling, Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will, Rave Tapes, and now their newest, Atomic, are carefully crafted records that are (mostly)instrumental journeys that are equal part pastoral soundscapes and heavy guitar wallop. I know I’m only covering the last 10 years of a nearly 20 year career, but I haven’t delved back into the early days(yet). This is a review of what’s happening now, and for my ears the new Atomic is what is happening right this very moment.

Like most in the post-rock canon, Mogwai were and have remained a mystery to me as a band. There’s no guitar solos, tasty drum fills, or lead singers belting out lovelorn lyrics to rope in the disenfranchised and broken-hearted. They don’t have individual spotlights shining on them one at a time, showcasing their individual bits. They work as one musical organism, building together not separately. In doing this their faces blur, and individuals become cogs in a post-rock machine. While this might sound rather dystopian, I think it works to Mogwai’s advantage. You’re not left with personality’s vying for the listener’s attention, but just the music to soak your head in. I think that’s why I’ve fallen so hard for Mogwai; as well as Explosions In The Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and This Will Destroy You, to name a few.

Mogwai, I think, are made to score stories on a screen. They’ve dabbled in the past with songs in film and working with the Kronos Quartet and Clint Mansell for the soundtrack to Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, but they truly shined with their score for the French TV series Les Revenants. On that score the band showed their mastery for nuance and mood, things they’d honed over the years as reigning kings of instrumental rock. Atomic is a re-tooling of the score they created for Mark Cousins’ documentary Atomic, Living In Dread And Promise. Having not seen the film I don’t know how different the album version of these songs are from the film, but in the canon of Mogwai music this record is one of their best.

Like their previous effort, the excellent Rave Tapes, synthesizers play heavily on this album. Not heavy in a way that the music is over-saturated with analog drip, but subtle plucks and dips are surrounded by orchestral richness like on album opener “Ether”. This track sounds like John Williams in outer space, or Howard Shore scoring in a black hole. Pretty soon the guitars soar in to put us smack dab in a Glasgow practice space and ground us back on the home planet. “Bitterness Centrifuge” feels monolithic in its “wall of doom”-like sound. It’s both emboldened by the sonic weight and tipsy in its overwhelming heft. “Little Boy” is subtle but strong, synth-heavy melancholy(melancholy is something these guys have always done well.) “Are You A Dancer” falls even deeper in quiet, maudlin vibes. A beautiful musical work. “Fat Man” is completely haunting and one of Mogwai’s most delicate pieces yet.

Atomic, as an ornament for another’s artistic achievement works beautifully, and on its own stands as a singular artistic statement as well. Like Explosions In The Sky’s wonderful The Wilderness, Atomic pushes the instrumental rock album to a whole other level.

8. 5 out of 10




12 thoughts on “Mogwai : Atomic

  1. The Hawk Is Howling was the first Mogwai album I loved. I was familiar with a load of tracks, but the albums were always a bit to difficult to access. They’re all great, though. Once I found the door I closed it behind me, opening it only to receive new Mogwai releases.

    This one is very great. Better than Rave Tapes, perhaps (which is utterly brilliant).

    … also, the Zidane soundtrack is worth digging into!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Zidane S/T??? I need to check that out!

      I think those early records scared me off from digging further. I should go back and revisit them. The last few years have been brilliant for them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yeah! – that’s a good one. I really enjoy the earlier stuff now, so I’d recommend a revisit. I think finding the ‘in’ really helps with those (The Hawk Is Howling having enough of the vibes from both the old and recent stuff).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been into Mogwai from early days onwards, due to having hipper cooler friends than I and I’m torn whether I prefer their earlier, rougher, more violent stuff over their more melodic, more recent works.

    I tend to buy every third LP of theirs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Every third LP? That seems like a smart idea.

      I wasn’t that into the violent stuff years ago, but my ears have changed quite a bit. I think its time to dig into the early stuff. Which one do you recommend I beging with?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like the ‘Sun Smells too Loud’ and there video on You -Tube of another band that was of the late 1960’s early 1970s when three Ladies are wearing buckskins’ and dancing while Idolizing a Key boardest who is also wearing buckskins’ lever figured out who that music group was however. I did just take a first time listen to ‘Ether’ and am listening to ‘Fat Man’ and present moment’ I have to listen to more of their music pieces. One back that I did discover around the same time that I really like all the way through the LP’s is ‘The Flemming Lips’ and I just discovered ‘Mazzy Star’ whom I was told in now in another band. Yep I really do like ‘Fat Man’ most of all. Thanks for the insight’ .

    Liked by 1 person

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