Artist: Mouse on Mars
Label: Thrill Jockey
Review date: May. 19, 2003
A Finely Aged Reissue
It's all here, and always has been. Disorienting, returning to what was and thinking: original, origin, origination, the new, event, of what has not been—again? Back to where we had been, we went all austere, somewhere, and dropped the drop. That drop that refreshened all this sound. Melancholia and nostalgia have no place in the re-listen—it reinvents itself like a crashing wave, all over again, insofar as there is no over nor again: just all. More.
In 1996, the majority of reviews said: this is not good for the dancefloor! And either celebrated or proclaimed the demise of Mouse on Mars. The vocabulary in many of these reviews did not know how to speak of post-kraut-rock, emotive technoscapes, improvised sequencing, live ambience, organic drones, and the abstract texturality that defined Mouse on Mars. A definition, moreover, that could not be, as such, a definition: MoM defied all expectation, releasing obscure sideprojects only on vinyl (including this release), translocating genre HQ from jungle rhythms and ambience to the undefinable velocities of unexplored territories (the forging of new directions entirely). Music journalists were muxored.
Seven years after. Or later—electronic music is reinvented, rediscovered, remixed. Blackbox brainchild. Sublunar bass, acidic overtones, snaps, cracks and pops, disguised d 'n' b rhythms, obfuscated, sent through spatial backdrops, watery graves, Sun Ra planetary synthesizers. Plumbing wells: the earth's crust is peeled back as drifting drones harness tropical winds, sea currents of change, rigging expediant experiments, and flying them as far as can be ascertained. Characteristic one: bubbling. Piano ruptures, reality-bubbles. Squirks of analogue MIDI burping. Lowdown, slowdown—horizontal eruption, and cudgel beats: excoriation of all vestiges of contemporary references, even today. Smeared tones paint a sonic horizon, and right at the horizon, ambient is set to cartwheels, broken beats to thunder, roared at the breast, love to warmth, keyed as analogue disarrary, disrupted... Tilting at windmills actually sent a few over.
Originally—again—a soundtrack for the film Glam with Tony Danza (or "so it goes"...). Never released. Glam was released on 1996 on vinyl, on their own imprint (sonig). Mouse on Mars is Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma, from Germany.
Josh Clifton had it on when he wrote, in 1998:
"Mouse On Mars remains unique among the electronic community by deviating from the same overused breakbeats and bass patterns found in today's techno. By running all of their equipment through a Moog module, the group creates beats that sound more like the squeak of a mouse, the soundtrack to Tron or the beeps and pops heard in Pac-Man arcade music than in a drum machine. You could say that the group's sound heavily reflects its moniker. On "Mood Leck Backlash," the band adds a subtle slide guitar into a mix of AM radio fuzz and intermittent analog beats to create a sound that hints at Tortoise or Oval." (www.nudeasthenews.com/reviews/510)
The mistake, it might be added, is in the word "techno." Today we can distinguish between the mainstream electronica that was charting at the time and the rhythmatics engineered specifically for the dancing body and the floor. The two are of different beasts, and to compare one over the other would be like claiming Jazz or Blues as the superior form. And MoM is neither—but somewhere of the in-between, lightly drifting on symphonic guitar string treatment on the memorable "litamin," navigating musical curves, not genres, feeling out sound with a touch, and a spaced out psychedelia, a laidback appreciation for the virtuality of the instrument, and the hum of sound, the oddity of electronics, not their binary clinicity.What remains to be emphasized is the deviation found in MoM, the perversion or odd path, unbeaten and, for the most part, still not taken—a vision of a future-electronic that has little to do with form and function, and more to do with an aural concept, a rigorous beauty, and a quick-shifting slide through the towers of post-technotronics still to be tread. Like aged cheese, ancient mead, or dregged wine.
Clifton's resulting prediction—that MoM is approaching Oval—would serve to be untrue, for neither MoM nor Oval remained the same. Oval became more abstract, noisy, and less organic as the digital pervaded his increasingly abstract compositions and conceptual apparatuses for constructing sound. MoM took a handful of directions but primarily retained its warmth, organic composition, and experiental expositions. Tortoise remains the primary comparison and beacon of similitude (but with such difference!). Glam deserves such recognition as Tortoise's Millions Now Living Will Never Die. Both chart a meeting of sorts, an encounter and a juncture that today we are only re-approaching in all its energy, its vivacity, its verve.
You can hear a Mouse on Mars record from a million miles away.
By tobias c. van Veen