It all started two years ago, a psychedelic friend of mine, mentioned over a lunchtime pint that there was a local band of space rockers who I’d really like called Mugstar who had a really good LP out called Lime. In my usual open-minded, clear thinking, entirely grown-up way I thought, ‘yeah right, just another Liverpool band’; the reasons for which are that for years, with a very few notable exceptions, everything and anything that emerges from Liverpool with guitars tends to sound like Love Forever Changes*, it seems to have soaked deeper into the city’s essence far more than the Beatles ever did.
Fast forward to April last year and I’m watching Mugstar put on a damn fine show supporting White Hills in Liverpool, the music is dense and driving, meshing, blurring and refocusing like the lights. This is the rockier end of proceedings, all the songs know exactly where they’re going, it’s predominantly instrumental and the keyboard player jumps up and down a lot. I swear that if you listened hard enough between tunes you could hear my opinions changing; it’s a kind of glacial grinding sound.
Having now got off my finely-chiselled backside and bought Lime last year, I can report it’s a brilliant album. When I reviewed their performance at Liverpool Psych Fest 2013 I mentioned that although people tend to try to reduce their sound to its base constituents, I think they are so much more than four guys with cool record collections. The whole recipe approach doesn’t really wash with me,
Take 200ml of Harmonia Musik Von Harmonia, stir in 5tsp of Hawkwind Levitation, place in a warm Amon Düül II for an hour until it rises, before serving on a Piper at the Gates of Dawn salad.
It is true that if the S.S Mugstar is a spaceship then it was one built in Germany in the early 70’s, but there really is more than enough Mugstar in here to go around, in their own right. A very good reference point for the sound of Lime** is the opening riff of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ by Floyd. If, like me, you have ever wanted the song to carry on in a similar vein to the opening few minutes, without some of the unfocused bits in the middle, then you’re really going to like this.
Lime kicks off in triumphant style with the perfectly titled ‘Sunburnt Impedance Machine’, with my absolute favourite riff at the moment courtesy of Neil Murphy and a perfect guitar sound. This was the first track to really get me hooked and I’m particularly keen when it turns into a punishing, pounding, processional late on; a little smug secret folks, it’s twice as good live. My favourite track changes from time to time, which I think is always the sign of a damn good LP, but ‘Serra’ has to be in with a shout. We’re talking straight space travel here, a sparse propulsive beat, all manner of oscillators and treated clarinet sounds teaming up with a simple keyboard pattern, creating a sound that’s far more 3010 than 2010; although it is named after the artist. The evening I bought Lime, Mrs 1537 and I, just kept putting ‘Serra’ on over and over again. Shame it isn’t longer? then you’ll be wanting the 37-minute long Serra (Distant Sun Mix) 12″ on green vinyl^ from 2012, which is excellent, but I haven’t listened to enough times to review properly yet.
If you’re going to put out a predominantly instrumental LP (vocals are used as texture in places but never as a main thingy thing), and make it a worthwhile listen then you can safely say that you need to be really gifted musos and Mugstar are, in spades. ‘Radar King’ stands as probably the best all round example of this on Lime. Starting out as a showcase for the considerable talents of drummer Steve Ashton in particular, it rises and falls, peaks and troughs very satisfyingly indeed. The delicate middle section where it almost all falls away is brilliant, before it all roars back, inexorably, to what sounds like the death throes of a pan-galactic empire.
It all ends on a note of tranquillity too, ‘Beyond The Sun’, with it’s vocal samples and gentle bass and keyboard lines, courtesy of Jason Stoll and Pete Smyth respectively is a perfect pacific ending to the LP. It’s the sort of song I could happily imagine watching the sunrise to, if I was ever up that early/that late, theoretically.
I hope it doesn’t sound like a back-handed compliment but there’s a simplicity to the sound of this LP that really works, Mugstar seem to know exactly what to leave out and when to stop which is a rare skill and discipline rarely glimpsed amongst psych/space bands. Oh, and lime is pretty much my favourite colour, so they get bonus 1537 points for that. Okay so I’m not very objective here, I’m off to see them again in March with the Warlocks, but trust me when I say that Lime is a really good LP, if you fancy yourself a bit of a space-rocker like I do, then it’s potentially your new favourite album.
It really is that good.
*I love Forever Changes, which is why I don’t really like to hear weedy copies of it.
**which has only just occurred to me now, as I was typing the above bit (#geniuslive).
^I know, I know, no-one likes a nerdy show off. Me included.