Back in 2009, there was an article about Grizzly Bear which tried to reconceive interdependence in between American civilization and American pop artists: “Listening to Grizzly Bear summoned up a reflection about how an advanced -level civilization enabled its colony to create popular music at maximum subtlety, such as Grizzly Bear.” / “And further question arose: How can our local group, Efek Rumah Kaca get rid of Radiohead’s The Bends influence within their sound? When will our local artists start to embrace complexity?” the writer exclaimed.
6 years later, Axis Mundi could be an answer of that question.
It was Love Garage 2013, it was drowsy as the rain stopper was in action and it was “Coraline”. I stood in total awe of existence and I didn't pretend to know what it's all about but it felt good. Probably due to Polka Wars’ performance that didn’t try to upstage anything or anyone, or probably the stop and go parts in the song. But as the night grew thicker, the alcohol and Karen O diverted my attention of the band’s performance and the rest is just vague memory. Fortunately, Polka Wars are not one trick pony because three years later, the bunch decided to outshine the appeal of “Coraline” via outlandish territory with an album titled “Axis Mundi” as their conveyor. And Axis Mundi augmented the remnants of that vague memory.
Wrapped in Hipgnosis-esque quaint transcending artwork, a reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s Presence, neatly sealed with slickly designed carton trapping, “Axis Mundi” seems a bit grandiose on the shell but, listening to the album, its songs deliver all the grandeur it promises as they sing “the more they train, the more they recognize this providence”.
Axis Mundi is assiduously wickered around idea of universal grand scheme of things and/or evolution of filial piety, a plausible undercurrent to keep the “Mundi” relevant. Kickstarted with manifestation of the band’s charming wit by deciding to open the album with “Mokele” the single, whose riff on intro sounds like identical twin of “Coraline” but filled with more conviction to the brim, which possibly a quick visit to ominous state where everything ends (“As the white dreams go static by the winds/ While it wipes all the trees and cold/All the visions if a muddled memory/Fades beneath the blurry stills”) and the fittest is the only one will survive (“All the signs lead it in/It’s turning the tide into fiends/Often see you out there/Mokele-Mbembe”). On a heavier note, Alfonso could’ve been a sacrilegious poetry to Albuquerque from third person’s perspective, probably a member of his troop or the subjugated (“Forsake the hour of my death/I can’t even relent the sin and vanity that you…/The smell of empathy that you resent-as if you own the land/Oh, the calling of your time will be fair-But the dream won’t come today”) or probably not. Top Gear (Moth & Flies) is frolicking with idea of taking a saunter to the afterlife through suffering (“Racing through the floods of thumb tacks in the dark”), futile attempt of claiming one’s life back (“Knives run out, we’re one with the fight/with all twist and might/weightless kicks and grips”) while “This Providence” is about acceptance of one’s fate with splash of optimism. And if Fleet Foxes wrote “Blue Spotted Tail”, Polka Wars have their own “Horse’s Hooves”, a song that glorifies our astonishing yet not fully explored earth and universe, which we know nothing about, where tectonic plates may shift on a whim, a subservient nod to Carl Sagan that emphasizes our vapid insignificance. Another charm of their wit is documented in Tall stories, so high a song as one can be, a contemplation during the hour of weedian (*Matt* Pike’s peak, anyone?) and a good trip, indeed, that entrances one to count his/her blessing because a life of one thing could go in flame, hence the “Thank God” adjuration. Axis Mundi is capped with “Piano Song” whose cumbersome spiritual weight and mortal fear may break the utterly tenuous link between one’s reason and soul then bring non-believer’s panache down to hollow squish.
The appeal of Axis Mundi is not only emitted from its lyrical department but also from its musical concoction. Polka Wars managed to find the balance between guitar twang suffused mid tempo songs (Mokele, Top Gear (Moth & Flies) and Tall Stories) and Slow Tempo-reminiscent of Liars’ WIXIW era- full of bleak emptiness such as “Alfonso” and “Horse Hooves” without forfeiting each other. Glimpse of the record’s supremacy can also be whiffed through Polka Wars’ knack for retrofitting warring but compelling shifts of passage amidst their playground (01:44 & 02:45 on Mokele, 01:10 on Top Gear (Moth & Flies), 00:47 on Horse Hooves to highlight a few), the intricate riff of Tall Stories, the like of which probably been sought by Paul Banks or Daniel Kessler for quite long, the nine minutes transcendental excursion, “Piano Song” and Karaeng Adjie’s avid vocal, whose timbre resembled the “dry”, less soulful version of Tunde Adebimpe, that somewhat provided important sonic amenities for Polka Wars’ musical prowess.
But especially ambitious is “Lovers”, a seductive prayer, where 2.0 version of Benny Soebardja embarked on an uphill battle in the far-east armored with nothing but compelling effects (flute?), strings and delicate tenor backing vocal in his sonic arsenal until the spiritual weight of which is at par with anything David Hersya ever wrote. A true masterpiece.
Our civilization is yet to reach its advanced level but Axis Mundi did well to live up its own name. It’s genuinely complex, portraying a bunch of young titans with no idle purpose to put their talent for good use. It is somewhat charming yet, none of its content is easy to parse. Unlike other effete collective who pulled too much foamy philosophy and pseudo-artisan’s (read: marketing) gimmickry resulting in nothing but snoozefest, Polka Wars can be sure as in rest assured that Axis Mundi is currently ahead in the race for best album of 2015, in my book for the least.