“Crystal Axis” – ‘Midnight Juggernauts’ [Joint Review]
It seems Highly Evolved has been preoccupied: catching-up with our old friends “Midnight Juggernauts”, we say hello to the long awaited follow-up “Crystal Axis” after their smashing debut, “Dystopia”. What can I offhandedly say about the album in the confines of a sentence? A great many things, and I may simply have to sum-it-up in one miserable word.
Time-warp back three years to the late Australian-winter of August of ’07: ‘Midnight Juggernauts’ release their debut, “Dystopia”, exploding onto the music-scene. Mind-blowing everyone within close proximity, this Melbourne-based electronica/progressive-rock band haling from my own home-town sharpens the electronica horizon with fresh, unexpected clarity: what more could an adolescent want? The unsavoury years pass without follow-up, and much like the long-awaited debut “Innerspeaker” from ‘Tame Impala’, we wait…
“Crystal Axis” is a bittersweet reminder of how bands already at the peak of stardom pump out music in the same manner as record-companies advertise their propaganda: both are absolutely drunk with power. Unlike ‘Tame Impala’ and their successful – albeit overdue – return, “Crystal Axis” feels tacked to the end of “Dystopia” like a resounding B-Side album: “Sawdust” from ‘The Killers’ is an excellent comparison. Although ‘The Killers’ did have the audacity to label “Sawdust” as a B-Side compilation-album, “Crystal Axis” is almost an insulting follow-up from “Dystopia”. With a comparatively tolerable opening- compared to its second-half, “Crystal Axis” shows little, if any, development of a style already graced and accepted by many loyal fans, with its sound now on the borderline of typical.
It is not to say that “Crystal Axis” is not above the bar of average, but it doesn’t make leaps and bounds over it although it may aspire to. I would redirect newcomers instead to ‘Midnight Juggernauts’ and their original debut before listening to “Crystal Axis”. With that said, fans can expect the usual assortment of synth and rock that “Dystopia” utilised, but nothing overly impressive or differing from the norm. While the occasional track shows the thready life-signs of potential-epic, these remain few and far between and are quickly subdued by a lack of crescendo or lyrics obscured by either percussion or synth. There are no bold or daring tracks which embody new direction or sound, and it feels like ‘Midnight Juggernauts’ chose to play it safe rather than make an album too dissimilar from their debut. Though this remains commendable, it is perhaps too same-y, too likewise, running parallel rather than lateral to “Dystopia”. The chance you might obtain, instead, the special-edition, yields only a few bonus-tracks – which I refuse to look at – and a cover by ‘Tame Impala’. In light of this, it still feels like a concession…
“Induco” opens as an introductory-track for “Crystal Axis”, a mixture of varying synth, guitar, organ and UFO-whistles: it’s like those old fifties-sixties science-fiction films all over again –
“Oh, no! Look out! Here comes the squibbly-squobbly thing!”
At two-minutes, nice and short and isn’t overstated; the one-and-only ephemeral for the entire album, expect full-bodied tracks afterward. “Vital Signs”, a distinctive follow-on from the introduction, feels polluted with the elements of pop specifically arranged for mainstream. Catchy-lyrics reinforced by the music surrounding them – doesn’t leave much room for a solo, however. “Lifeblood Flow” repeats all of this – I only remember the poignant phrase:
“… where did all the spirit go…”
“This New Technology” sees a return of ‘Midnight Juggernauts” if-not-already-infamous, famed-organ. It undercuts the whole track, giving that extra layer of darkness to an otherwise upbeat song, and is reminiscent of “Tombstone” off “Dystopia”. Other than that, the dreamy-atmosphere after the final chorus is overly shoegaze – the song fades away, and so does some of my interest. “Lara Versus The Savage Pack” is an attempt to break away from this niche that “Dystopia” comfortably set itself, but it is awkwardly placed in the middle of the album – not much of a statement of change. It isn’t at the beginning where I would expect it and is literally surrounded by tracks that don’t share any of its features; a bit of an oddball.
Things kind of free-fall thereafter. I will, however, mention after this point of no return the one redeeming feature off “Crystal Axis” which did manage to catch my otherwise-unstirred attention. That would be “Fade To Red”. This is what I expected “Crystal Axis” to be on-the-whole. ‘Midnight Juggernauts’, I believe, came into the limelight not because of their interesting array of synthesised music – though this was particularly notable and interesting, at the time – but because of some inherit darkness or pessimism carefully magnified in “Dystopia” which is featureless and misdirected in “Crystal Axis”. “Nine Lives”, for instance, off “Dystopia” is one of my favourite tracks, “Tombstone” is pessimistically-orientated also – just listen to the lyrics. “Crystal Axis” must have found the light in life or something, because the mist and shadow is all but gone…
Reviewer’s Pick: “Fade To Red”
Stand-out Tracks: “Fade To Red”
The Enantiomorphic God