Mugstar - 'Lime'


Mugstar’s third release comes hot on the heels of ...Sun, Broken... , their debut on US label Important Records. That perfect slab of heaviness hit just when Liverpool’s finest exponents of noisy, pulsating grooves seemed to have gone a bit quiet, however it quickly became known that their absence had been spent not just laying down that album, but the next one as well. Anyone expecting a carbon-copy release might be surprised then to see that this album follows a different layout to the previous two’s mixture of long and short, full band and ambient tracks; the four tracks here are all between 7 and 13 minutes, and the record is resolutely “band” focused. There’s an interesting development in presentation too, from the psyche aesthetic of the last title to the oscilloscope traces and lurid green cover for Lime, a nod to the electronic and krautrock influences that bolster their primal live power.
That power is the first thing that grabs you about Mugstar. Overdriven bass, washes of noisy and effected guitars alternating with crunching riffs, all propelled by the unfailingly metronomic precision of the drums; their on-stage presence has an air of determined menace. Their last album reproduced this superbly, and of course Lime has the same advantage. The production is really up front, and in another departure from previous outings the assault is almost instantaneous. The opening riff to Sunburnt Impedance Machine cycles through once on a lone electric guitar hit so hard you can hear the strings bending out of tune, before, cued by a single booming tom hit, the band kicks in with full force. Seven and a half minutes of back-to-back powerhouse lines is a good way of reassuring the listener that fewer, longer tracks doesn’t mean a lot of impenetrable noodling – in fact it’s one of their most unashamedly “rock” songs, down to some howling lead guitar work halfway through, and a much longer chord progression than the three-note mantras they’re known for. When the thirteen minute Serra follows, it soothes the adrenaline hit of the opener with intertwining layers of clarinet, organ and guitar building over a gently propulsive beat, swelling as it progresses but never kicking off.
It’s interesting to note that these arrangements are short on overdubs; the sound is full and textured through judicious use of equipment and different melodic lines, but a live feel is retained throughout. There was sometimes the sense in their previous releases that Mugstar had an interest in sweeping, airy sound effects that wasn’t quite fitting into their songs, resulting in a handful of shorter ambient tracks punctuating the albums. Here that impulse has been fully co-opted, and Serra’s wide sonic palette benefits from its rhythmic backbone, a strong momentum that the listener can allow themselves to be carried by after the assault of the first track. As soon as it has faded, though, the riff to Radar King announces itself straight away. It’s a return to their more minimal style of full-throttle riffing, one guitar essentially just doing low-string slides, the other hitting frantic, high-up choppy chords in a moment that’s probably as close to funk as Mugstar will ever get, i.e. really not very funky. It’s another well-judged piece of album pacing, shaking the listener from the meditative comforts of the previous track. That job done, there’s space around the pounding four note bass line for plenty of guitar violence, and again the effects have the pleasing quality of sounding live and direct, not multi-tracked and swaddled in reverb as the cliché runs. The song quickly winds down from its high-octane entry, hitting a midpoint of cymbal washes and six-string bat calls, all setting the scene for what they really do best: a very long crescendo with a very high peak. The rapid bass drum that runs through this build-up has such a visceral power that it seemed to be applying direct chest compressions the only time I’ve seen it live, exploding into a maelstrom of dentist’s drill guitar noise and pummelling...well, at this point every instrument is pretty heavy on the pummelling.
At first it might seem like an odd choice, but after such a frantic wig-out, the rippling pysche-hymn Beyond the Sun is a fitting finale. A laid-back bassline underpins shimmering synth chords and echoing, wordless vocals; paradoxically given its title, it seems designed to bring the listener back down to earth somewhat, giving the previous track’s tension an opportunity to ebb away. Listening to the album in a continuous stretch brings out the care that’s been taken with its peaks and troughs, and to my ears it comes out as their most cohesive work to date. Another two next year then, please.