Compared to much of Mugstar‘s earlier work, the new opus Axis plays as buoyant, almost jubilant. Their characteristic drama and intensity (found in full flower on their recent Ad Marginem) is here, but orbiting around that one-of-many axes, Mugstar set into motion a new set of celestial bodies. Still fully capable of creating their own gravity,this excursion finds them playing with it, giving it an elasticity that hints at Mugstar riffing on themselves as much as the influences and touchstones they draw from. Those influences abound; a dizzy smart mix that is breathed in and returned distilled as a breath of fresh air that still leaves oxygen for the furnace blasts. Axis is at once a classicist Mugstar album and one that takes their sonics and execution to a new, and…here it comes…approachable level. It’s an aptly titled record spinning around Mugstar’s internal turbine and body of work, strengthening older orbits and introducing new ones. Case in point, opener Black Fountain. Retooled from an earlier split with Carlton Melton, it’s a slight bridge from what came before to a subtly more open vista, both an introduction and exposition. Somewonderfully theatrical organ turns Hollow Ox into a cathedral-esque illumination in the church that Mugstar built, showing that they haven’t forgone the coiled tenseness, latent promise, and threat, of explosion. Tangerina completes the one-two punch with Hollow Ox, pulsing with a Krautrock heart that understands that means far, far more than a beat. No disrespect intended, Tangerina is proof positive that Mugstar create some of the best driving songs this side of any sun. In Earth resurrectsthecathedral-esqueonce more, born deep in the ground, swelling up like a funereal hillock until elevation and levitation. Axis Modulator, all about the rhythm and the pound,might be the most overtly straight-ahead Mugstar cut on Axis, the wizard behind the curtain working his mojo with almost-wordless vocals taking the cut somewhere new and binding it with earlier sounds. It grabs and doesn’t let go until you’re Upturndownside while Mugstar achieve the goal, but on a different tangent. A more fluid vibe washes ashore on this one, with the drums hinting at a tribal feel as loose-edged sounds and flares give Upturndownside form without hard definition. Vehicles of Spain brings Axis to a close, keeping the doors widen open for more travel. The looser, almost frolicsome side of Axis is brought to the forefront for an exhilarating, and uplifting finish that lifts Mugstar up to peak over another new horizon line. Axis, with its subtle, elusive modulating of Mugstar’s sound makes a statement of the journey so far, leaving the other end of the tunnel open. Axis shines with their knack for reaching deep down into the core (and there is more than one) grabbing it with both hands and dragging it up and outward. They spin around the surface, under it, through it, more often than not far above it. If there is a surface for Mugstar, a place to land, Axis isn’t it by a long shot; as Vehicles of Spain makes clear, there are far more places to go before making a landing. If Axis is your first ride with Mugstar, it’s as fine a point of entry as any. If you’ve been along for the ride so far, then you’ll get exactly what you expect as Axis ups the ante again.
At the core of Mugstar, among a swirling mass of other ingredients, is their undeniable heft. Whether ramping up blistering avant-space rock to an incendiary release or a meditative sprawl with reimagined krautrock underpinnings, there’s an elemental pull that goes beyond mass and becomes gravity. From the pummeling to the pensive, there’s a draw back to their marrow that defines them. That sonic fulcrum is more prevalent than ever on the Ad Marginem soundtrack. The music is Mugstar through and through, standing on its own as an album proper, but this principle nucleus is the star. In some ways, Ad Marginem might be their most personal album, letting this base turn more outward. Soundtracks often get relegated to incidental music, taking a backseat to serve the film, or at least accent the narrative. Ad Marginem comes across as a partner to the visuals, both serving the other with a goal beyond each. Though a fair share is minimal by their own standards, there’s nothing marginal and there’s no mistaking this is Mugstar. Their tension is calmer, partly a result of the music’s function to the film in one case, but it also moves Ad Marginem forward at a languid and at times dramatically brooding pace that welcomes introspection. Without hamstringing themselves or exerting an unnatural control on their sound, Mugstar partially redistribute their weight, not lessen it. It’s not without the release that Mugstar nail when needed, or wanted. The end of Red – Island proves it, or the visceral locomotive denouement of the stellar Rite II that comes to a rousing blow-out: pure and primary Mugstar. Throughout, some of the breaks and stops/starts translate to what would be the sonic equivalent to a film edit, surely marrying the sounds to the visuals further, but also pushing Mugstar to different dynamics.
We normally play very free and open and are more likely to go off the feel rather than a rigid structure. So, songs which may be 10 minutes on an album could last anything between 7 – 12 minutes depending on the feel of time at that time. Whereas with the ﬁlm soundtrack we had to focus on timing… — Jason Stoll
It’s tempting to say Ad Marginem is somehow more ‘mature,’ but that’s a disservice to their other records and in some ways would trivialize this one. Mugstar have always been cerebral, muscular and as each of their records show, evolving. Ad Marginem is no different.
Ad Marginem, CD/DVD/LP, is due this June on Agitated Records.
Rite II :: Mugstar :: Ad Marginem (2012, Agitated Records)
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