Mugstar: the most dazzling thing to emerge from Liverpool since John Bishop’s teeth. Since releasing their debut back in 2006 they have established themselves as one of the most vital acts on the psych scene. Mugstar specialise in space rock, if specialise means “owns it and makes everyone else look like snot-nosed simpletons”.
Serra, one of two albums they released in 2010, continued their ascent into the heavens, burning brightly as they rocketed away into the distance. Meanwhile, hundreds of psych bands would be hatched into a fertile new scene, mewling in disconsolate horror at the futility of existing in the slipstream of such a band.
‘Sunburnt Impedance Machine’ clatters over a sand dune like a furious nuclear powered swan riding a camel overdosing on cheap energy drinks. The song kicks into a monstrous chugging groove while surgical and bone-saw guitars vie for attention. The drums pour out a relentless 4/4 tide like an army of ants engulfing a forest floor. Keyboards parp garage drones. The action boils up past 5 minutes into a furious nerve shredding scream at the future. This is what Mugstar are all about. Call the competition: tell them to pack up and get out of Dodge.
‘Serra’ glides in with a classic glassy Motorik pulse and electronics from the inner workings of a flying saucer. Past 3 minutes delicate splashes of guitar join the fray. Then the keyboards kick in, turning it on its head and reforming the song before your eyes (ok… ears) into a propulsive dance/ space-rock smash. As the 7 minute mark approaches the keyboards get bored and wander off. We’re back cruising, nodding our heads as decaying electronic squeal & squawk then past 8 minutes a guitar solo rides in like High Plains Drifter. Colours bleed into one another and the edges blur like an overexposed photo, the drums remaining the sole point of clarity.
‘Radar King’ begins with a fast and uncontrollable vigour. Feverish drums and sweaty bass in a unholy tangle of limbs. Once again, guitars trade blows, depicting a parallel universe where Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd were in Motorhead. The overall effect of this song is on a par with Godzilla ripping Leicester apart to get the last chipolata on the BBQ. Past 3 minutes a calm descends, all of a sudden we’re in a real pea souper with tinkling percussion and icy scrapes of guitar. Something dark emerges, a thundering, ominious groove. The bass sounds like it is burrowing through the depths of the earth, moving up towards the surface, an unrepentant nightmarish mass. The drums suggest machinery, viler than William Blake could have visioned. Past 9 minutes the machinery of the underworld breaks through and life will never be the same again. Guitar swoosh, holler and offer switchblade slashes.
‘Beyond The Sun’ offers a sleepy amble from the heat haze of a desert sun, yet comprises the harsh, droning engines of a Cold War submarine. Both spectral and sunburnt the album winds down with a mesmeric, hypnotising bliss.
One of the numerous things that makes Mugstar special is that the guitars (provided by Pete Smyth and Neil Murphy) offer both seriously heavy riffage and arty post rock experimentation. While one guitar offers primal, huge, brutal riffs, the other is off exploring the galaxy. Meanwhile the rhythm section (courtesy of Jason Stoll and Steve Ashton) is space rock all the way, their slavish dedication to groove meaning that the band never gets lost up their own art holes, no matter how wild or freaky things get you can always nod your way and get lost in the repetition. Mugstar, truly something for everyone.
4 years later and Mugstar are without doubt at the top table of the psych scene. A discography groaning with excellent albums, delivered with style, power and fun. If Serra isn’t in your collection, it should be.