documentary

Soundtrack review: Atomic (Mogwai – 2016)

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“Atomic” is a poignant and delightful album that pleased me on a lot of levels

“Atomic – Living in Dread and Promise” is a 2015 BBC documentary made for the 70s anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima which showed the appalling destructive power of the atomic bomb. Mark Cousins’ bold new documentary looks at death in the atomic age, but life too. Using only archive film, Atomic shows us an impressionistic kaleidoscope of our nuclear times: protest marches, Cold War sabre rattling, Chernobyl and Fukushima, but also the sublime beauty of the atomic world, and how X Rays and MRI scans have improved human lives. The nuclear age has been a nightmare, but dreamlike too. The score was written by British band Mogwai and this is what attracted me to it. These guys contributed to scores like Miami Vice which I really loved and it’s always intriguing to hear a band like this venture into film music. I’m expecting atmospheric goodness.

Mogwai have manage to create kind of a unique style for themselves and I enjoy hearing it right from the first cue “Ether”; their brand of atmospheric music is sparkling and addictive. It’s no wonder they worked on “Miami vice” because their style sometimes meets that of John Murphy and I get flashbacks of “Sunshine” when I hear “Scram”. The sound of “Atomic” is electronic and dreamy without being quiet. The music is reflective and challenging in the same time and I get the impression or travelling through space and seeing all sorts of different planets and objects rather than just drifting into the darkness and sleeping.

The story the score was written for pats me on the shoulder when “Bitterness centrifuge” starts. The music gets industrial while keeping that wide cinematic sound I like so much. It’s a moment when I realize that not all is dreamy and beautiful. Just a nod, just a reminder before the music goes back to electronic. Being such a fan of simple electronic music I revel in a cue like “U-235”. Then again the music makes me think of the horrors of war in “Pripyat”.

As the score progresses I admire how the composers managed to express both sides of the spectrum touched by this documentary: the beauty of the atomic world, the help it provides and how it can help and create life as well as the ugliness of war and the evil uses of this discovery. The cues alternate between the two and I don’t need to see the movie to feel both contrasting feelings.

“Atomic” is a poignant and delightful album that pleased me on a lot of levels, from the nostalgia of the atmospheric and 90s rock sound to the dreamy images it brought to my mind. Give this one a listen because I’m sure you’ll find something to relate to.

Cue rating: 92 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 29 / 48

Album excellence: 61%

Highlights:

Scram

U-235

Pripyat

Weak Force

Little Boy

Fat Man

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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