In their own ways, Zidane and Les Revenants are some of Mogwai's finest work, so it makes sense that Atomic -- an album based on their music for the BBC 4 documentary Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise and their first release after the departure of John Cummings -- follows suit. The band's tenth album recalls not only Zidane and Les Revenants but the fearsome sweep of Jóhann Jóhannsson's Fordlandia, another unflinching look at humankind's capacity to discover and create equally constructive and destructive technology. Even separated from the documentary's imagery, Atomic contains the wonder and horror of breakthroughs like x-rays and MRI scans as well as nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima. "Ether" begins the album with sparkling arpeggios and a trumpet that sounds like the dawning of a new age, while "Fat Man" (named for the bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki) closes it with ominously echoing piano. "SCRAM" falls somewhere in between, its loping beat and strobing melody recalling Boards of Canada at their most enigmatically beautiful. There's a weighty undercurrent to almost all of Atomic's songs, whether in their deliberate paces or substantial low ends, that reflects the album's somber origins. The crushing drums on "Pripyat," which was inspired by the town devastated by the Chernobyl accident, convey a primal sense of awe, while the fearsome majesty of "Bitterness Centrifuge" nods to the band's metal leanings. Indeed, the ways Mogwai borrow from their other career highlights without obviously recycling are impressive: the hushed, bittersweet warmth of "Are You a Dancer?" calls to mind their early singles, while pulsing tracks like "U-235" and "Little Boy" sound like they could have been on Rave Tapes. They're also relatively restrained with their signature climaxes, only unleashing one on the towering "Tzar." Ambitious and masterful, Atomic is another peak in Mogwai's career.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares