Sound — 8
It comes as no surprise that Mogwai, the post-rock veterans known for their atmospheric songwriting, would find a place in composing soundtracks for film and TV shows, with their first attempts in this facet being a decade ago as collaborators on the soundtrack for the 2006 feature film "The Fountain," and sole composers for the French documentary "Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait." In recent years, though, soundtrack and score composing has gained significant attention from the general public, and has acted as a strong selling point artistically, whether it be Trent Reznor's compositions for "Gone Girl," Jonny Greenwood's compositions for "Inherent Vice," or Arcade Fire's compositions for "Her." These same recent years have shown Mogwai dipping back into the soundtrack composing again, and having recently composed for the TV documentary "Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise," they decided to rework their score for the documentary and release it as their ninth studio album.
Because of its originally intended purpose of being an aural addition to a movie, rather than being composed as a standalone album, the sound of "Atomic" keeps itself much more reserved compared to Mogwai's recent albums. Though their classic post-rock moments of hazy guitar layers hit some nice crests in "Ether" and "SCRAM," the band refrain from this conventional style of theirs more often than not in order to craft other moods and atmospheres. There's a lot more synthesizer flavor to the album (likely inspired by the soundtrack's subject matter of outer space), heard in the eerie, '80s modular likes of "U-235," the colorful synth layers eclipsing the small rock instrumentation in "Little Boy," and most impressively, the grainy saturated synth layers in "Pripyat" that create an opaque post-rock concoction without the expected guitar usage, proving to be a nifty alternative route to the same satisfying result. Contrasting those moments of synthy haze, Mogwai also compose cleaner moments that invest more in organic sounds and clarity, like the spotlight-grabbing violin melody in "Are You a Dancer?," and the final ballad of "Fat Man," where its delicately depressive piano melody makes for a nice juxtaposition following the post-rock peak of the penultimate "Tzar."
Lyrics — 8
[There are no lyrics in this album.]
Overall Impression — 8
With Mogwai hitting a comfortable stride in their catalog as of lately, where their well-known compositional tricks and penchants are presented with a comfortable consistency, the artistic intentions by which "Atomic" was created certainly makes for a satisfying change of things. The band's approach to the soundtrack's composition, showing a compartmentalizing of certain ideas for certain songs to contrast one another and to sculpt a more interesting arc throughout, not only fits with the subject matter the music was crafted for, but makes for a dynamic and interesting album.