Mouse on Mars


(Monkeytown; 2012)

By P.M. Goerner | 19 March 2012

Ah, shit. Looks like Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma are just about ripe to suffer the progenitor’s curse. Last month’s release of their first record in almost six years—and let’s not forget that our last meeting was over the bewildering and impenetrable but ultimately rewarding Varcharz (2006)—kind of makes me feel like these rather legendary dudes were starting to feel a little dissed after the tenth or twelfth time that someone obviously heavily indebted to their blissfully radical electronic deconstructionism was given credit for inventing the wheel.

No patronizing insult meant of course, all these new wheels sure are great, and I like how you painted those purple flames there; it’s just that, particularly in the critical realm, it amazes me sometimes how ready people are to call things “new.” It’s no secret that those recontextualized sounds are transformed as much through that new context and circumstance as they are defined by their technical constitution and corporeal attributes, I know, but I’m a student of history. It makes me feel good to be able to connect things, and listening to Mouse on Mars makes me feel like I’m coming closer to an understanding of the muscular threads that unite so much of what is always trying to separate itself into the “new.” When it comes to modern electronic music, Mouse on Mars just might be the universal glue I’m looking for.

To my surprise and eventual satisfaction, much of the band’s new LP, Parastrophics, eschews the wildly unpredictable composition of most of their most well-known material, and instead finds comfort in settling in with a more unified palette to capture the signature Mouse on Mars toolbox-tumbling-down-stairs electro-ecstasy in mid-somersault. That sounds kind of silly to say in the context of the group’s history, but though there may not be so much actual paring down, things just feel much more together than in the past, and here the songs are lent that familiar sense of ecstatic variability through a much more exclusive collection of textures and frequencies, with those sounds simply being mined more deeply through extensive creative modulations. So many of the shards and spikes that walled Varcharz and interjected unexpectedly within the duo’s tracks for years have been supplanted by friendlier textures—warm vocal samples, invitingly fuzzy analog sounds suspended in glowing dust clouds, and an overflow of the caffeinated melodies that were always so fun to dig out of the old tunes. And that’s another thing I’m quite happy to welcome back: the ramshackle fun that Mouse on Mars have always had a talent for injecting into the oft-intellectualized realm of IDM and strange electronic music. I don’t personally need to go much further than the almost-totally-absurd-but-somehow-perfect eccentricities of a track like “Chordblocker, Cinnamon Toasted” to know I’m back in the familiar hands of electronic music’s most artful tricksters.

In the midst of the edged funk of “They Know Your Name,” for instance, a track that makes Mouse on Mars’ ability to sublimate, absorb, thoroughly digest, and ultimately refresh the musical landscape around them like some kind of electronic nitrogen cycle, I also can’t help but feel like these fellows do the elder statesmen thing with a kind of unrivaled class. They unabashedly reclaim some of the sounds that they themselves were instrumental in inspiring, bridging the gap between then and now and sparing their astute audience a “classic” routine. To be more specific, “Imatch” touches on more than just a little of Flying Lotus’ sparkling, kitchen sink funk, and could pretty easily be mistaken for a track from Cosmogramma (2010) in the first few moments. These tracks do a grand job of marrying that kind of modern maximalism to the carefully sharpened experimental minimalism of Mouse on Mars’ European pedigree (also, the melting, confrontational tachycardia of closer “Seaqz,” which splits it’s own sensibility almost right down the middle), and let’s just say that by the time “Imatch” morphs into a lost Zapp! jam at about a minute and a half, I’d totally forgotten that I’d had any reason to wonder what had happened in the last half decade.

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for the deceptive narrative of lineage, but Mouse on Mars are there for me in regards to my connective insecurities. After all, these are the guys that originally taught me how to demand that electronic music not only be physically engaging but that it be interesting and kind of confounding in an “I must know more” sort of way—and now, in a graceful return to form, Jan and Andi make it clear that they’re as present as ever, ready to jump into the game like it hasn’t been six years since we last met. I’d laud this as a comeback, but it simply doesn’t need the help, and Varcharz still suits me pretty well as a soundtrack to typewriter porn, so it’s not as if there’s much to come back from. Ok, ok, we can go ahead and cue the part that sounds like the victory music from Super Mario Bros now.