The Upshot: A companion piece to a BBC documentary that features none of the big dynamic shifts you’d expect from earlier albums. Ironically, for soundtrack to a movie about atom bombs, it is uncharacteristically lacking in explosions. Pictured above is the colored vinyl version that fans were able to pre-order; although it doesn’t get shipped until early June, it’s already sold out.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
Mogwai’s Atomic began its life as the soundtrack to a BBC documentary about nuclear science called Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise, which explains the themed track titles — “Bitterness Centrifuge,” “U-235,” “Fat Man,” “Little Boy” etc. It may also explain the chilled, scientific remove of these cuts, which move with slow tempo mechanical precision, parts interlocking in a precise give and take. The album’s sounds are derived largely from synthesizers with organic instruments (guitar, drums, at one point a violin) sitting decidedly back in the mix.
The best tracks have a church organ grandeur, intimating menace and redemption in blasts of keyboard sound. “Pripyat,” named for a town downwind of Chernobyl, is the biggest and most impressive of these cuts, pacing rippling tone-poem atmospherics with a solemn, ritual beat. But “Bitterness Centrifuge” moves with a similar shuddering grace, its desolate ruminations turning intermittently brighter, like strong sunlight shining through dusty stained glass.
“Little Boy” falls closest to Mogwai’s non-soundtrack work, with rich striations of tone and overtone blooming over the bump of bass and hiss of cymbals. It’s the one you’d recognize right away as a Mogwai song, yet even it feels weighted with the subject matter. “Are You a Dancer” harks back to Come on Die Young, in its moody contemplative aura, though perhaps because of the violin, it also sounds a bit like Dirty Three.
Because it’s a soundtrack, where the music works in support of narrative and imagery, Atomic remains subdued. There are none of the big dynamic shifts you’d expect from earlier albums, and, indeed, very little in the way of gradual crescendo. The medium-temperature-ness of this album is its main drawback. Ironically, Mogwai’s soundtrack to a movie about atom bombs is uncharacteristically lacking in explosions.
DOWNLOAD: “Pripyat” “Are You a Dancer?”