For a brief period as the Aughts drew to a close, a Eurodisco splinter cell formed in the southern hemisphere. New Zealand’s Ladyhawke and Australian acts like Van She, Cut Copy, The Presets, and Midnight Juggernauts, all with nurturing from the Modular record label, managed to loosen the Continental stranglehold on blog house and indie dance. Midnight Juggernauts may be first back to the record rack and download queue, but the results on their 2010 album The Crystal Axis might end up pretty far (if you will) down under those of their compatriots.
On their 2007 debut LP Dystopia Midnight Juggernauts had the good sense to keep things tight. Almost everything on it could have been a single, though with the possible exception of “Into the Galaxy” they relied on well-worn electronic tropes like Daft Punk’s fuzzy funk and Air’s glossy stoicism. Vincent Vendetta, Andrew Szekeres, and Daniel Stricker exhibit no such restraint The Crystal Axis, moving them away from their precious few strengths at a disastrous clip.
Much of the trio’s work here—the harmonic mess of “Lifeblood Flow,” the melodramatic back half of first single “This New Technology,” and the syrupy “Virago”—introduces to their brand of dance-rock a proggy take on pop. There are frankly too many ill-advised references to Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks; it’s a creative decision sadly similar to MGMT’s miscalculated artistic development on Congratulations. Other bad ideas include a list-as-lyrics retread (where “Cannibal Freeway” apes “Tombstone” from Dystopia) and the lurching rockabilly of “Winds of Fortune.”
These make the few good ideas on The Crystal Axis stand in such stark relief. The second half of “The Great Beyond” could be remixed into something special, while “Vital Signs” recalls David Bowie’s spacey minor-key disconnection. It’s “Lara Versus the Savage Pack,” however, that’s the real double-edged sword for Midnight Juggernauts: Like “Into the Galaxy” from Dystopia, this funk stomp should manage to keep the band’s heads above water for the next 18 months or so. That is, until they break up because nobody will care much beyond that point.