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In an era of increasingly staid and formulaic Australian producers and electronic artists, it’s refreshing to see an Australian band unashamedly pursuing their art without making concessions to the mainstream. Indeed, Melbourne’s Midnight Juggernauts have been doing so for almost 10 years now, but it’s easy to still see them as the fresh-faced kids singing about escaping “out into the galaxy” back in 2007. Their latest offering, Uncanny Valley, their first in three years, is another positive step forwards that builds on the work of their previous albums Dystopia (2007) and The Crystal Axis (2010).
Uncanny Valley is named after an observation in digital aesthetics that when human facial features are replicated too closely in robots or computer-generated animations it causes revulsion in the viewer. Who knows what the meaning of this metaphor is, but the nod to robotics is ever-present on the album, with influences ranging from fellow electronic artists M83, Daft Punk and Giorgio Moroder to more alternative and indie rock sounds like The National and Grizzly Bear.
Uncanny Valley is about as understated as a dramatic, robotic, post electro pop album can be, and it’s in these quieter moments that Juggers really shine. They recorded the bulk of the album in a church in the French countryside, and the feeling of seclusion – the band apparently had a no-phones policy while in the Loire Valley – is especially present on tracks like HCL, Master Of Gold and Melodiya.
In the three years since their last release, the band’s members have been involved in various side-projects: interpretative film scores for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne, performing horror film scores on the largest organ in the southern hemisphere, and working on something called Phantoscopia, apparently a “hypno-mentalist performance-piece”. These experiences have shaped the broad range of sounds explored on this album, and it’s apparent how well-rounded Midnight Juggernauts have become as a band.
The album is so varied, however, that no one sound really defines it, and this is definitely to its benefit. Like their previous two releases, Uncanny Valley fits into that fluid and ever-changing genre of electronic dance music that I like to call “electro-whatever”. Synths are deployed in force, lending the album a strong ’70s vibe. Streets Of Babylon, for example, is a mysterious, synth-driven track underlain with a driving beat. Single Memorium – which features a fantastic video clip that you must check out – is a dark dance track somehow reminiscent of both a David Lynch film and, say, a 1980s cop film soundtrack.
Lead singer Vincent Vendetta‘s heavily filtered voice is brooding and strangely menacing, and there’s a feeling that he’s really in his element as a vocalist on this album. Another Land, complete with recreated horror movie soundbites and a creepy, rolling synth track, highlights his unique vocal stylings, and is a confident high point of the album.
It’s clear that Midnight Juggernauts have a sound they want to explore, the technical proficiency to do so and the creativity to keep their music novel and engaging. They are well-travelled, having performed in locales as removed as Moscow and Bogota, and this is testament to the work ethic the members must have. They run their own record label, Siberia Records, and so it seems that the next generation of Australian electronic artists are in safe hands.