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Mugstar – Axis

Agitated

Anyone wondering what kind of album Mugstar would follow up the far-out and extra solid Lime and the soundtrack to Ad Margineum can now find out. Lime was the point at which all the ideas heard floating around (and sometimes above) …Sun, Broken… and Mugstar coalesced into something greater than the sum total of the band’s reference points (of which let’s just mention Hawkwind, NEU! and The Heads for starters).

A surge of what have by all accounts been mind-blowing live shows has obviously strengthened Mugstar’s musical musculature, because Axis kicks off with an oiled tone on the guitars and smoothly-pulverising bass rumbles as the drums propel the workout into the supremely weighty “Black Fountain;” just the bass guitar here alone is enough to rattle the windows – but frankly it and the following echoing organ-grinder “Hollow Ox” are only a prelude to the heaviness yet to come. “Tangerina” strips back the percussion and lets the guitars coast out into a fine euphoric wall of sound which is soon joined by organ stabs to set the dancefloor juices bubbling in pretty much the same way they move when Stereolab or La Düsseldorf drive the feet and shake the hips to the phased grooves – to the point that it seems like the only thing that’s missing here is Laetitia Sadier‘s softly-barbed political croon. Yes, it’s more than familiar, but it feels good to be back on this particular road with Mugstar at the wheel.

“In Earth” is a languorous winder, each instrument circling sedately into place like the band are seeing where they can jam to, and ending up somewhere mapping out a cursive head-nodding terrain, guided by the meandering organ. At first, this is definitely one for when the lava lamp is really getting going, multi-coloured shadows flowing across the surroundings like dancers at the edge of timelessness – but then Mugstar pull back, the guitars start to chop and change tightly, the mood startles itself awake, and everything changes up a gear. This feels like a relatively relaxed pause by comparison with the monstrous “Axis Modulator” which follows soon after, though. When it kicks in – and does it kick, like a grumpy mule with a ketamine habit – the space dust gets well and truly flowing, the band channelling Can or Circle at their most concentrated, the organ cutting blithely through a stomping great bastard of a repetitive riff. It’s glorious to be immersed in a group letting rip with all they’ve learned thus far and got to display, splitting hard out and so far beyond motorik that they’re virtually a runaway steam train by this point. When the echoed vocals spray across the mix, it’s like Damo Suzuki has dropped in to sing (as is his wont), but finds there are no words – only reverberating yelps – to reflect the solid weight of what’s transpiring all around.

In the best tradition of psychedelic heavy rock albums, Axis has its own freaky interlude, and while “Upturnsidedown” keeps the beat going, it then splashes the cymbal crashes over a babel of abstract vocalisation shoved through a hallucinatory set of FX units and left to decay among themselves. Slight as it might be in comparison to what’s gone before, structurally it works well as a lysergic precursor to the closing “Vehicles of Spain,” where the gleeful sound of electric joy returns on a wave of ecstatic good-time spacerock, the keyboard rippling away in joyful melodies while the percussion thrums with the sound of an album bidding so long and thanks for all the trips. By the sounds of it, in Mugstar’s case they were probably all purple oms.

-Linus Tossio-

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