Mouse On Mars - WOW

by Daryl Worthington Rating:8 Release Date:2012-11-12

The German duo of Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma have been making their unique, deranged blend of electronic music for the best part of 20 years, over 10 albums. They have taken in a huge array of genres, and a look at their choice of collaborators, from Mark E Smith through to Stereolab, gives an insight into the crazy, boundary-free musical universe they inhabit. Wow was completed in just six months (compared to their previous album, which took five years.) However, in this time they've managed to collaborate with a Vietnamese artist (Dao Anh Khanh) to come up with a new language which is used throughout the album and resume their collaboration with Argentinian Punk band Las Kellies.

The album's title (aside from being a mirror image of the initials MOM) captures perfectly the excited wander with which the duo fly through ideas. Every track on the album is treated with an enthusiastic energy which makes it sound like a debut, not an established band on its 11th album. 'HYM' begins with euphoric blasts of echoey drums and synth pads, before abruptly switching to a slower, dubby groove with cut-up vocal samples. These switches in tempo and dynamics are continued throughout the track, with it rarely seeming to repeat itself. The whole thing comes across like a caffeine-fuelled conversation, switching between ideas but maintaining some kind of narrative.

Throughout the album there is a constant sense of movement. As the label website says, this is music aimed at the dancefloor. 'CAN' starts with a frantic but always solid beat, with crazy, atonal stabs and manipulations of Anh Khanh's voice into a weird alien-sounding melody. However, the primacy remains in the beat, the urge to get people moving. Another remarkable aspect of the album is that pretty much all of the tracks contain fairly abrupt, unpredictable changes in rhythm and tempo. But again, these never interrupt the songs, the sense of momentum.

Boundaries are clearly something alien to Mouse on Mars. As their Argentinean and Vietnamese collaborators prove, geographical boundaries can't prevent them making the music they want to make; so too, genre boundaries are completely ignored. Ultimately, of course Mouse on Mars make electronic dance music. However, this is like saying Frank Zappa made rock music. In a way it's correct, but it misses so much of what they do. 'VAX' has the deep bass throb associated with Joker or Zomby, but it's wonky, with bizarre eastern sounding melodies over the top creating something unique and surreal. Similarly, 'PUN' has a familiar South London bassy swing to it, but the synths over the top are almost jazzy, loose sounding and unpredictable. Much like Zappa, Mouse on Mars take elements from genres all around them, and twist them with their own characters and sense of humour.

If you've never heard of Mouse on Mars, this album is as good a place as any to start. A great primer on their unique, groove-led, odd-ball dance music. Wow is ridiculously intelligent in its conception but ridiculously fun at the same time.

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