Mogwai’s latest soundtrack is for Stafano Sollima’s cocaine-smuggling epic ZeroZeroZero which spans three continents and six languages. The soundtrack is equally ambitious with 21 tracks clocking in at around 65 minutes, though what it lacks in brevity it more than makes up for with its minatory atmosphere.
As with the band’s masterpiece Les Revenants, ZeroZeroZero’s beauty is gestalt. It’s an enveloping journey through cavernous valleys of growling bass and soaring post-rock guitars laden with the band’s signature reverb and delay. Apprehensive keys and tight, precise percussion lend the album a disquieting aura that doesn’t let up across its expansive runtime.
From the outset ZeroZeroZero promises to be a dense journey. From the tactile opening piano refrain of Visit Me to the deep thrumming synths on the finale The Wife Was Touched, the ambience feels like a physical presence in the room. Like being in an airless underground carpark, every chime and kick reverberates around the sonic spectrum with a claustrophobic closeness.
Lesser Glasgow wouldn’t sound out of place in 2049 Los Angeles; pulsing bass and regal, trumpeting synths create a stifling smoggy atmosphere of oppression and humidity. Similarly, I’m Not Going When I Don’t Get Back invokes the rising tension and anxiety of a car chase gone wrong in some neon-drenched megalopolis in a bleak, repressive future.
The suffocating cities disappear over the horizon on Modern Troll, a Morricone-tinged soundscape of warbling guitars and hazy mirages where Stuart Braithwaite’s guitar takes the lead. Telt and Space Annual – the two shortest tracks on the album – provide momentary respite from the heat with gossamer piano and shimmering synth tones. The Wife Was Touched’s reedy analogue tones bring the album to a sinister and understated finale, the high frequency worried noises creating an anxious counterbalance to the dull thumping of the bass.
Mogwai have proven time and time again that they’re one of Scotland’s most important, influential and essential exports. Their string of soundtracks over the past decade have given the band space and time to breathe, to experiment with the more delicate aspects of their walls of sound. ZeroZeroZero feels like the assemblage of everything that has come before it; from the pulsing vignettes of Les Revenants to the post-rock grandeur of Atomic to the uplifting heroics of Kin. It’s a work of restrained elegance where noise and beauty coexist, where Mogwai’s unique talent for making expansive soundscapes feel intimate lies. ZeroZeroZero is a triumph in a catalogue of triumphs for a band that never seems to run out of ideas.