Review: The Crystal Axis by Midnight Juggernauts
The Crystal Axis
It took a while but I finally worked out why I hated the new wave of new wave electronica of the ’00s. Music is meant to evoke feelings, stir passions, and the world of Cut Copy and the Presets seemed to exist in an emotional vacuum: cold and aloof. It worked in the venal ’80s, and through the ironic, cynical ’00s it worked again, drawing hipper-than-thou kids to their steely synths and lobotomised vocal tones.
Soon I worked out why I like Midnight Juggernauts. After sinister EPs and singles, their 2007 debut Dystopia emerged full of wonder at a boundless galaxy, conceptually embracing that vacuum and contemplating the almost abstract vastness of the universe. They forged out beyond the stars, dizzying listeners with prog electro that was beaty enough for the dancefloor but atmospheric enough to score 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Crystal Axis still exists in that cosmic realm, but this is their journey home. They are no longer starry-eyed with awe but smug in humanity’s conquering of the heavens. How does that translate, sound-wise? Catchier hooks. More vocals in stricter patterns. Fewer open-ended arrangements. And a diminished experience for the listener.
That’s not to say that Dystopia didn’t have accessible tunes, nor that The Crystal Axis doesn’t wander out of orbit on a regular basis. It’s just that those head-swimming moments are sectioned off into bridges or fade-outs or intros rather than being part of the fabric of the sound. Midnight Juggernauts are now more confident and comfortable with the idea of a discrete song, rather than being jettisoned through a journey.
Track three, ‘Lifeblood Flow’, could fit on any ’80s synth-pop compilation but is bracketed by the occasionally twisted ‘Vital Signs‘ and the searching organs of single ‘This New Technology’. The apex of this separation would be track ten, ‘Dynasty’, which would be comfortable on Space Oddity. There’s enough campness and playfulness to be intergalactic lounge music, but the final two tracks that follow are the glitch-fest ‘Lemuria‘ and the shuddering finale ‘Fade To Red’.
Obviously I’m dissecting it too much. Vincent and Andy remain undeniably garbed in white space suits, drifting through the void. The Crystal Axis showcases everything they learned on the way out into the great unknown: throbbing synth lines, floor-stomping beats, ethereal vocals and a bold willingness to test the limits of gravity.
It just feels a bit wrong when they have their ‘Welcome home, astronauts’ party anthem at the centre of the album in ‘Lara Versus The Savage Pack’. It feels that Midnight Juggernauts are homing in on the successes of their peers, aiming for the clubs rather than the stars, looking inward rather than out, and moving away from what made them special. As a collection of songs, in themselves, The Crystal Axis is as engaging as the Midnight Juggernauts are. I just expect more from them.