What is the difference between striking when the iron is hot and merely kicking at flickering embers? This is a question worth further exploration in light of the sudden explosion of the so-called `blog-house’ movement in music this past year. However, it’s also one that you won’t find any easy answers to on Dystopia, the debut album from Midnight Juggernauts. Following in the footsteps of fellow Aussies Cut Copy and The Presets, championed by blog-house forefathers Justice, the band and album are often reflective of the movement itself: sporadically inspired and thoroughly of the moment, more often than not to a fault.
After a minute-long intro consisting of synthesizers ominously whirring to life, the Juggernauts put them to good use on “Ending of an Era” (a knowing jab at the genre that birthed them?), a patiently swelling number laced with menacing organ jabs that suggest what Muse may have sounded like had they listened to David Bowie instead of Queen growing up. In fact, Dystopia as a whole could be conceived as the raver’s answer to that band’s Absolution, from the overt theatricality of the proceedings right down to the superficial concept tying it together. In this case, that concept seems to be diving headfirst into a new world, and ultimately being disenchanted with what’s found.
The journey is all mapped out on “Into the Galaxy,” a warm and exhilarating single-in-the-making that finds the group putting on their best Ziggy Stardust costumes and anxious to take off and soar up, up, and away towards giddy stratospheres unknown. We are too at first, especially when that song is directly followed by the gorgeously gliding “Shadows,” a wise holdover from their preceding Secrets of the Universe EP and arguably the best song here. Once in orbit though, the band tends to make like Icarus, flying too close to the sun of their influences and occasionally being consumed by the flames.
“Twenty Thousand Leagues” nearly drowns in its titular depths of Klaxon-esque posturing, seemingly oblivious to its own unnecessary and downright obnoxious guitar coda. If it didn’t work for the Klaxons, why would it work here? “Tombstone” and “Road to Recovery” find the band setting their goals much higher in their deft Daft Punkiness—the latter track in particular should make for a scorching centerpiece jam in many a DJ set over the next few months. But they say little about the band besides how they really, really like Daft Punk, which hardly makes them distinctive amongst their peers. After all, the people who agreed to tag along on this doomed voyage expect to see more than the same constellations they could view from their windows at home, however pretty they may be.
To be fair, Midnight Juggernauts never sound less than confident and competent throughout, and the dueling climactic churns of “Nine Lives” and “So Many Frequencies” go a long way towards rediscovering Dystopia‘s initial sense of wonder and wanderlust. But they need to turn up the flames if they want to keep that iron from cooling in its current inoffensive state. This blog-house party is already over-crowded. The last thing we need is people showing up late wearing the same outfits as everyone else.