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Mugstar - Sun, Broken

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Artist: Mugstar

Album: Sun, Broken

Label: Important

Review date: May. 20, 2010

Liverpool’s Mugstar occupy a sort of no man’s land between grunge and space rock. On Sun, Broken the band builds a series of songs each from a simple repetitive motif, with mixed results. At 37 minutes, the album is admirably brief, but at the same time, most of the songs are around the six-minute mark, and the closing track breaks 13 minutes, so one needs to approach this with some understanding of voyage as raison d’être. You’re here for the trip, in other words, but don’t necessarily expect to get anywhere — you’ll end up where you started, in more ways than one. Most simply, the waves of quiet synth that open the album are the same as those that close its final song, so on repeat you could have a properly endless flow if you so desired.

The cleverly-titled "Technical Knowledge as a Weapon" starts things off pretty well. After a brief synth intro, the song resolves in a repetitive chug, quite Hawkwind-like with a side of Oneida, courtesy of the chirping organ hits that keep things moving. The interplay of the guitar and organ evolves only slightly, and drags here and there, so the song seems to lose momentum around the five-minute mark. Nonetheless, the guitar riff is beefy and the prog-rock breaks with organ emphasis feel pretty good. The cycling riff and pounding rhythm of "Ouroboros" kicks in immediately following — it’s the album’s best song because of it. As its name suggests, the beginning and end reference the same simple riff, with a calmer central section that floats along Floydian passages of scrape and echo. The end of the song builds into a nice cacophony, but it’s really said its piece before it reaches the six-minute mark.

From there on out, the remainder of the album feels like a few ideas stretched out too far. "Today is the Wrong Shape" rides a steady Hawkwind riff through fuzz and synth that bubble and drone White Hills style, but suffers from the "riff that wouldn’t die" syndrome — each brief break feels like the end, but then back comes from the riff again, like a space rock zombie that hasn’t had enough. The song is perfectly fine, but doesn’t seem to have anywhere to go.

When one reaches the 13-minute closer "Furklausundbo," you wonder if it’s named in honor of Circle, as the music clearly owes a great deal to them. The recurring, simple keyboard and guitar motif and steadily pounding rhythm takes some time to get going, bringing to mind everyone from Circle to Stereolab, and of course progenitors Neu! and its motorik sensibility. About halfway through, the slowly-increasing intensity momentarily gives way to slow, heavy waves, but then the rhythm comes back in again and we’re off once more on the same train. Ultimately, the song is a bit of an oxymoron, in that it is continually changing, and yet it never really changes. The variation of keyboards and guitar over the same rhythm will either pull you in, or leave you bored, and that’s really the key to the album as a whole. It’s going to work well for some, but I’ll have to wait and see if Mugstar can inject some purpose and focus their energies next time out.

By Mason Jones

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