Review: Natalie Salvo
|Batten down the hatches, the Midnight Juggernauts ‘difficult’ second album, The Crystal Axis appears to be anything but that. Instead, it uses analogue harmony walls and experimentation aplenty to craft 12 striking tracks (well 11 plus an overture) with a destination of the sun’s core. Onboard we journey via new tangents and those crazy panoramic retro screens of old.
The trio employed a lot of live experimentation to get here. The jams err on the side of prog rock and spaced-out sonic landscapes. They billeted together in a remote and isolated house on the NSW
coast with only synthesisers, keys, guitars, drums, racks of pedals and other electronic gizmos for company. The jams even found their way into the recording process and at times this adds a unique character to the music, while at other moments feels as though a bit too much fat was left on the bone.
“Induco” is the overture lulling the listener away from the “next big thing” the music business has anointed as king, back to the retro-futurist and indie-electro world the Juggers have inhabited since they began doing their thang back in 2004. Armed with the electronica music they make best, at times this verges into Daft Punk-like territory. The ambience bleeds into the album’s second track (and second single), the big and catchy pop world of “Vital Signs,” perhaps this record’s answer to “Into the Galaxy”.
Meanwhile, “Lifeblood Flow” sets the tone for much of the remainder of the record. It’s a tripped out and expansive affair that is a synth opera boasting spiraling grooves to huge Technicolor jams of fun-packed textures. You can hear almost anybody in there- from Queen and Muse to Split Enz and The Cure and definitely, David Bowie.
Lyrically the album can be likened to New Order, as it tackles a number of different issues while still maintaining a light and entertaining beat. Things like human fragility and mortality versus what lies out there in the ever-present great beyond get a good flogging. At times this can be really palatable (like “Vital Signs) while others are disconcerting and strange (e.g. “Cannibal Freeway”- the group themselves admitting they consumed one too many gore and sci-fi flicks at the time).
There is a song with a noticeable krautrock influence (“Lara Versus the Savage Pack”) and the Beach Boys are surfing in a planetarium on “Winds of Fortune”. Elsewhere, there are eerie, deserted carnival keys (“The Great Beyond”) and some slight, whimsical synth in “Cannibal Freeway”.
The Crystal Axis is a far meatier record than Dystopia. It’s all about light vs. darkness, all things weird and wonderful not to mention those people shaking and grooving the night away. A rousing and celebratory experience, it has a radiant light soaring up and traveling fast through the different sound spheres, all crazy and disorganised with ample time for the listener to laugh and put their hands up in the air. Like ambient crystals in the electro pop rough, sure it’s not space diamonds but it is a polished and solid follow-up and a worthy progression on from their almighty debut.
Review: Natalie Salvo
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