Album Reviews: Midnight Juggernauts’ Uncanny Valley

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Photo Credit: Luke Stephenson 

Midnight Juggernauts

Uncanny Valley

Melody Maker Records

Release Date: July 9, 2013

Track Listing

  1. HCL
  2. Ballad of the War Machine
  3. Memorium
  4. Streets of Babylon
  5. Sugar and Bullets
  6. Master of Gold
  7. Systematic
  8. Deep Blue Lines
  9. Another Land
  10. Melodiya

Personnel

Vincent Vendetta

Andrew Szekeres

Daniel Stricker

After the release of the band’s first two albums, Dystopia and The Crystal Axis, and a series of extensive tours which had the members of the Melbourne, Australia-based Midnight Juggernauts playing Brisbane, Australia; Barcelona, Spain; Berlin, Germany; Bogatá, Columbia and countless places across the globe, the trio took some much needed time off. And for a band that’s proudly defied genre boundaries and conventions that period away from recording and touring allowed each member of the band to throw themselves into a variety of projects including some odd one-offs, and other ambitious undertakings.

   Recorded in an old church in the Loire Valley of France, and in several studios in Melbourne and Sydney, and released in July by Melody Makers, sonically the album is inspired by Italian giallo soundtracks, Soviet era pop music and minimalist/futuristic electronica. But conceptually, Uncanny Valley is inspired by the published writings of roboticist Masahiro Mori. In his seminal work Bukimi no Tani Genshō published in 1970 and has become popular among robotic engineers and CGI, Mori wrote: “I have noticed that, in climbing toward the goal of making robots appear human, our affinity for them increases until we come to a valley, which I call the uncanny valley.” It’s a future that manages to be surreal and yet entirely plausible, awesome and yet full of unseen horror, and it reverberates throughout the album. None of this should be surprising for a band known to run traditional rock instrumentation (i.e., guitar, bass, keyboard and drums) through a complex array of samplers, effects pedals, patches and other assorted effects – and has shown a deep-seated interest and affinity for CGI.

   With that in mind, on the trio’s first full-length album in almost three years, the band’s sound manages to be both all too familiar and alien – it possesses an icy chill that’s thawed slightly with a shimmering, throbbing club-ready beats while coming off at strange, unexpected angles. Album opener, "HCL” employs a slick production style that’s polished to a gleaming shine – it also feels efficient in the sense that every note and beat feels used to a specific purpose. “Ballad of the War Machine” is a shimmering bit of Soviet-era inspired dance pop that manages to be futuristic and anachronistic. “Memorium,” the standout song of the album and perhaps my summer, sounds as though it owes a debt to Cut Copy, Bear in Heaven and Joy Division – in part to the vocalist’s deep, moody baritone over icily shimmering synths. “Melodiya” is slickly produced club-ready song with an icy sheen, a pulsating beat, undulating synths, off-kilter harmony and an infectious hook.

   And although the trio of Midnight Juggernauts have rather diverse influences – how many contemporary artists can talk about Soviet-era dance pop after all? – the uninitiated will likely lump them in a group of interesting indie electro pop artists, such as Cut Copy, Bear in Heaven, Ishi, and others. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does miss the point that conceptually they set themselves apart, and at times it’s more complex, challenging and textured – to the point that multiple plays are necessary to catch it. In some way, they suggest that the gleaming, efficient future has rot and horror seeping under it’s surface.

 

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