Midnight Juggernauts | Dystopia (Astralwerks)

cd_midnight-juggernauts.jpgEvery song has something to offer, but there are obvious highlights.







Now this is the way to make ’80s-style synth-rock. Write a bunch of cool songs, fill ’em with glassy-smooth synthesizer riffs that update all those gloriously catchy sounds from the vintage years of MTV, add danceable but varied rhythms, and top off with killer vocals of both the lower register and falsetto range. Way to go, you awesome Aussies!

Vincent and Andy Juggernaut are the core members of this Australian band, with newcomer Daniel Stricker on drums and vox for Dystopia, this first full-length effort (they’ve a previous EP to their credit). Channeling everything from David Bowie circa Let’s Dance to Gary Numan to the more recent sonic adventures of Air, the Juggernauts achieve a rare consistency on Dystopia that’s immensely satisfying. Every song has something to offer, but there are obvious highlights.

"Into the Galaxy," the sort of title The Orb and other ambient/techno groups from the ’90s might have used, serves up an incredibly punchy rhythm that straps you into the most comfortably plush seat on the spaceship and takes you whizzin’ way out there, while warm, low-register vocals and surprising secondary falsettos keep you fully alert and engaged. Sure, it may evoke Bowie, The Fixx or The Cars at times, but there’s something really sublime going on here…perhaps a level of craftsmanship that makes even the most familiar elements sound fresh.

"Worlds Converged" begins with an unexpected bit of Beach Boys-style harmonies, then brings on the moody synth and catchy rhythm to work its textural intentions in captivating fashion. Track after track manages to vary the formula creatively; the title cut relies on low-pitched voices harmonizing to create a hypnotic atmosphere, and it works wonderfully. We’re used to higher harmonies in pop music, and this is something quite rare and startling.

"Road to Recovery" is an album highlight, a buzzy, oddball concoction of a tune that gets under your skin in a covert manner. If nocturnal insects could suddenly make electro-rock, they might come up with something like this. And the track doesn’t just stick with one sound; there’s pleasant harmonic development within it. "Twenty Thousand Leagues" is another stellar composition; again, the low voices prove quite captivating, but the sparkling synthesizer work is what most people will notice first. Each element on its own is simple enough, but adding them together creates a dense, absorbing field of sound in which the straightforward chorus—"Day by day/ Calling out, calling out to you"—positively gleams with melodic purity. And there’s another vocal taking place in the background which adds resonance and depth; it eventually works its way to the front of the mix near the end of the song, and the effect is truly beguiling.

Then there’s "Tombsone," which combines a robotic voice with a steady, thumping rhythm, and the awesomely quirky rocker "So Many Frequencies," with great recitative lyrics, a potent rhythm and, once again, thoroughly engaging vocals.

Midnight Juggernauts may not be the most original band to come down the pike, but they’ve refined a style we’ve heard variations of for years, and found new ways to make it compelling and fun. Dystopia is a smooth, scenic ride through a galactic theme park once hopelessly overcrowded, but now expanded and modernized, with bright, confident helmsmen at the controls. B+ | Kevin Renick

RIYL: LCD Soundsystem, David Bowie, Daft Punk

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