I believe it was extravagantly hatted jazz-funk troubadours Jamiroquai who thought to name one of their albums “Travelling Without Moving”. Shame they got their first, as it’s a title that’s more than befitting this new album from Mugstar.
With hints of (middle) Eastern melody, Krautrock, and tribal rhythm rearing up on “Axis”, the band certainly evoke several different mental landscapes and over the course of the 7 songs within takes us to the moon and back . “Black Fountain” begins the journey with a swing in its’ step, based mostly around a simple guitar line and and barrelling drums – there’s a steady sense of propulsion at work that keeps the momentum throughout this and much of the other songs here even though it seems on the surface like there’s not a lot going on – no massive key changes or tempo alterations. But there is. More than you realise at first.
Mugstar have always had a knack for layering and shading .They lock into the foundation of a song and anchor it with a tight rhythm section and add little details that at first pass you by, but with each new listen reveal themselves. Take the cosmiche orientated “Tangerina” as just one example, motoring along with a simple bass and organ line taking the lead while guitars interject tastefully from time to time alternating from background to foreground. As it closes it reveals waves of shimmering synth in the fading seconds of the song that you didn’t notice were there all along.
Synths and organs colour in between the lines as the guitars and bass lay the groundwork, but the magic is that each instrument fits together in such a way that the music on “Axis” transcends the individual players. It takes on a life of its own. “Hollow Ox” for example strides in with a big dirty almost early Deep Purple organ and riff combo, all in unison – but each instrument branches out after the big recurring hook at the core, only to return to lodge it in your head once more when the time is right. Mugstar keep a reign on themselves, never straying once into over indulgence – they stray over the 6 minute mark only once, which for what’s basically a psychedelic rock band is a pretty fucking serious level of restraint. Consequently the attention never wanders.
Around the halfway point of the album we get a fine one two punch that’s the highlight of the album: “In Earth” is anything but earthbound – the initial moments are a slow burning space rock orbit around the moon before the latter half picks up the space with an almost subliminal reverbed out melody hidden behind the chords. It’s the sound of the Grand Spaceship Mugstar beginning their descent towards earth on re-entry. And on the following “Axis Modulator”, they come crash landing joyously.
A masterclass in both psychedelic rock and psychogeography. One of the few records I’ve heard recently that serves perfectly as both background music and on focused listening, which may seem like a backhanded compliment but the key here is that the former will often turn into the latter. While not obviously intrusive musically, Mugstar’s sounds are infectious as hell. “Axis” is a trip I’ll be more than happy to take again and again.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes