Mystic Jaguar…Attack!!! opens with a dramatic two-part post-rock instrumental called “Apogee.” This inevitably instills certain expectations for the rest of the album. Progressive songwriting, instrumental expertise, mesmerizing rhythms, classical structures, and the absence of the mundane are all promised indirectly. Except by the most skeptical and masochistic among us, the title of the song will not be interpreted literally.
On this, the debut release from Kansas City, MO’s the Stella Link, reality is a compromise between these two reactions. While not all of the remaining eight tracks fail at realizing the potential posed by the introduction, as a whole they don’t do much to refute the notion that the start of the album is indeed its apex.
In “Undetermined” the Stella Link wish they sounded more like Failure. Not that they can be blamed for this. “Winner Takes All” (mp3) is another intense post-hardcore number, with a bolder midwestern stamp. “Ice Machine” (mp3) finally revisits the gorgeous instrumental post-rock of “Apogee.” Despite its tendency to wander, it’s an unquestionable highlight. The droning and pulsing “Fog Machine,” a short track with a spacey, industrial feel and without lyrics, is another strong point. There develops an obvious trend – the Stella Link turn into a different band when they go instrumental, and are evidently far less skilled at building songs around lyrics than they are at crafting soundscapes. They formed in late 2000 as a predominately instrumental group, and it seems that propensity still lingers.
Produced by some big names in Midwest post-hardcore (Matt Talbott of Hum and Paul Malinowski of Shiner), the album is an important artifact for followers of that scene. The band’s four members come from a number of Kansas City-based indie rock groups: Lafayette, Season to Risk, Aerialuxe, Dirt Nap, and the String and Return. Record label Ascetic Records, based in Saint Louis, completes the geographic lockdown. Coupled with the musical inconsistency, this roster fosters the sense that this record is more of a snapshot compilation than a coherent album.
The only song here that encapsulates both unnecessarily distinct approaches is “Starting Line,” which is therefore the best selection on the album. But with this track stacked right below “Apogee,” Mystic Jaguar puts its best face forward to a fault. Good first impressions turn out to be deadly.