Mugstar - Axis

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2012-11-18

Mugstar have released some fine music over the last couple of years including a split record with Oneida and this year's atmospheric OST album Ad Marginem. Yet for many, Axis may be the first you've heard of Mugstar since 2010s well-received Lime album. Now I'll cut-to-the-chase: Axis blows their recent releases out of the water and, after listening to it on almost constant repeat this week, I'm convinced it's one of the year's finest LPs. Where Ad Marginem stood as a subtle and tension-racked LP, Axis sounds positively euphoric in places, bursting with energy and new ideas.

The album starts with the tribal drums and tense, repetitive guitar riffs of 'Black Fountain', an urgent slice of Krautrock-influenced psychedelia. It's with second track, 'Hollow Ox', that you really start to sit up and listen though. 'Hollow Ox' comes on like horror soundtrack maestros' Goblin trying to play classic rock riffs. There's a gobsmackingly brilliant organ/keyboard motif at the centre and a feeling that Mugstar have somehow managed to hit new and ever more impressive peaks, nine years into their time together.

'Tangerina' is a propulsive and joyous keyboard-led groove which would fit rather seamlessly into Mogwai album Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. 'In Earth' starts as a woozy slice of psychedelia with a hypnotic bassline and subtle keyboard tones. Yet the track reveals it teeth towards the end with dramatic, feedback-drenched guitars. Unlike Lime, the tracks on Axis don't stretch much beyond the five-minute mark and it's incredible that they can make a relatively compact album (7 tracks, 35 minutes) seem so sprawling and expansive.

'Axis Modulator' finds the band adopting a pounding, motorik rhythm and echoed, wordless vocals; the whole thing is carried off with an impressive energy and sense of urgency. 'Upturnsidedown' slows things down ever-so-slightly and shows the band's intricate guitar work at its most mesmerising, while 'Vehicles of Spain' matches an almost New Order-esque bassline to some gorgeous synth sounds.

Axis is the kind of album which deserves to be heard by more than just Mugstar's devoted fanbase and obscure vinyl collectors. It's an album to wholeheartedly embrace. Like Mogwai's finest LPs, Axis is a record for your head, your heart and your imagination. Where the strengths of their Lime LP were a commitment to lengthy repetition, making the album a cohesive and all-consuming journey, Axis sees the band at their most eclectic, playful and ambitious. A fantastic album.

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