Mogwai - Atomic - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Mogwai - Atomic

by Brian Lange. Rating:7 Release Date:2016-04-02

Back in the early days of Mogwai, the 'inside joke' among my mates and I was that Mogwai was the 'soundtrack band'. The most obvious reason for this is the band’s general lack of lyrical components and their orchestral sensitivity. The irony that they are now creating a lot of soundtrack work is somehow quite satisfying to me. 

Partial credit is given to Mogwai for their contribution to Darren Aronofsky’s 2006 film, The Fountain. Mogwai would go on to create a soundtrack for the French series, Les Revenants, as well as the ethereal score for Scottish artist Douglas Gordon’s film, Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait.  Their latest effort in the world of film soundtracks comes in the form of Atomic, a soundtrack for Mark Cousins’ experimental documentary film, Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise, based on the horrors of the Cold War, Chernobyl and Fukushima as well as the positive changes of the atomic age. that consists almost entirely of stock and found footage. 

In some cases a soundtrack is good enough to stand alone but, as a general rule, the less consciously noticeable a score is during the film viewing process, the more successful it is; it is merely meant to accompany the film from which it originates. 

Having seen the film, which originally premiered on BBC television, it goes without saying that the soundtrack works amazingly well with the moving imagery.  Take for example the track 'U-235', an introductory track that crescendos to a magnificent climatic moment that Mogwai is so good at doing.  This is obviously a direct reference to uranium, a key ingredient for atomic energy.  Shown are images of cell division and the birth organic life.  A time-lapse image of a flower that grows from a seed, opens its petals into life, visually mimicking an atomic blast.  “The sun and the sky are very dear to us.” An old woman states with regards to her devastated farm affected by the Chernobyl disaster as 'Weak Force', a somber and eerie piano piece simultaneously plays to more devastating images of the circumstances of nuclear disaster.  Mogwai’s score, though brilliant, goes almost seamlessly unnoticed.  A remarkable marriage of visual and audible art. 

But as a soundtrack, how does this record stand on its own?  Well, it is Mogwai.  The day that Mogwai makes something that is unlistenable, I no longer want to live.  The work is great but it is quite obvious that this is the sort of record that is meant to be heard while watching the film.  Even the Les Reventants and Zidane soundtracks I could see having enough strength to stand on their own.  But Atomic is without a doubt the most chilling and provoking piece when heard in collaboration with Cousins’ experimental film. 

Top marks as a soundtrack to a film, but I highly recommend that Mogwai listeners watch the film in its entirety prior to listening to this record on its own. 

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