Taking three years to follow up its debut, The Crystal Axis continues what was already known about Midnight Juggernauts while revealing a side that wasn’t. This is a band on the verge, on the verge of what has yet to be determined.
Not knowing what’s to come means Midnight Juggernauts is still searching for a sound that sticks. The band’s sound now revolves around lots of references to Prince, Bowie and T. Rex. In essence, a glam approach to psychedelic rock that’s danceable when they want it to be. The subdued vocals, and euro dance hall side from 2007 makes an appearance yes, “Virago” does it wonderfully, but for the most part it has been left in the backseat for stripped down guitar based tracks. This falls right in line with the trend of retro rock that’s made a comeback recently, ditching in many ways what worked for the band in the first place. Risky move yes, but more than a few tracks show its worth.
The Crystal Axis starts with the more obvious hook heavy approach on “Vital Signs” and “Life Blood Flow,” but from there quickly divulges into the band’s true intent—to trip out.
Carrying all the confidence and ease of the first record, Axis is an experiment in pop, and in how malleable it can be. The same kinds of intentions from the debut are still here, they’re just much hazier. It starts with the more obvious hook heavy approach on “Vital Signs” and “Life Blood Flow,” but from there quickly divulges into the band’s true intent—to trip out.
This broadened sound makes its first full appearance on “This New Technology.” Made of solid, clean psychedelic rock that loves the retro keys with expansive breakdowns, it makes for the jammiest track to date. “Dynasty” adds a side of theatricality with different Moog effects and an abundance of organ. “Winds of Fortune” takes the opposite approach, keeping things tightly wound around the funk driven guitars and harmonies for the best track on the record.
As is becoming the only consistent pattern for the band, the track titles and themes are sticking with the existential talking about “new worlds in the great beyond.” The key word is escapism, and is meant in the fullest extent. The oddest, “Cannibal Freeway”, has us “stuck in heavy traffic on the cannibal freeway” as it describes a creepy future world. The presence of imagination is heavily felt, this is the soundtrack to whatever world Midnight Juggernauts were imagining at the time.
Imagination aside, this record has the potential to polarize fans. New directions will do that. The good news is Axis puts forth plenty of strengths in that new direction, for what it lacks in continuity, it more than makes up for with earnest hooks. It will take one more album though before Midnight Juggernauts’ aim as a band makes sense. Given Axis, it will certainly be interesting to see where this band goes next.