Mouse On Mars - 21 Again

by Ethan Ranis Rating:7 Release Date:2014-10-31

Mouse on Mars are elder statesmen of the elctronic music scene, and one of the key elements of their reputation is their status as expert self-curators. Most of their albums begin with an explicit statement of purpose that shows the general mode they are working in: think of Autoditacker's bubbly 'Sui Shop' or Varcharz's distorted, scrabbling 'charTnok' as contrasting examples. 

So it may come as a shock to hear 21 Again open with Mouse on Mars' version of the hip-hop voicemail, with Mark E Smith and Eleni Poulou noisily wishing them a happy birthday. This interlude makes much more sense once this album's actual content becomes clear: it's a b-sides collection, with a thin layer of conceptual icing on top.

21 Again is an anniversary album of collaborations, running the gamut from the expected (some dubbed-out post-rock with sometime-labelmates Tortoise, a glitch piece with Oval, who has previously collaborated with Jan St Werner) to some more novel combos ('Metalonna Swamp' adds in some incongrous banjo plucks which make it sound like a techno remix of Deliverance, and Tyondai Braxton, formerly of Battles, makes a gloriously demented late-album contribution that's reminscent of the soundtrack to cult-anime classic Paprika). The tone strays all over the Mouse on Mars' canon, though the majority falls under their typical fusion of squidgy synth sounds and funk/disco beats.

Like any b-sides collection, this could clearly use some trimming. The voice messages, in particular, get pretty repetitive and unncessary, with perhaps a few exceptions (such as Prefuse 73's cheerfully profane, inarticulate declaration of how Mouse on Mars' music helped him find his own place in the electronic music world, or A Hawk and a Handsaw's rangy acoustic jam session). The handful of tracks that feature vocals are also largely inessential, with Junior Boys providing some syrupy falsetto to 'Putty Tart' and Eric D Clark half-heartedly trying to force some old-school soul into 'Lost and Found'. YOSHIMIO's tribal vocalizations on 'NKANKA' are somewhat distracting, but at least fit more cohesively into Mouse on Mars' worldview.

This kitchen-sink approach is definitely a deviation from the norm for Mouse on Mars. Perhaps it was encouraged by Monkeytown label-owners and pals Modeselektor, who similarly like to chuck everything onto an album tracklist in the spirit of superabundant generosity. However, Mouse on Mars have always worked better with a 'less is more' approach - their seminal ambient album Glam was actually significantly more effective on its original vinyl release when compared to its expanded CD version.

There's some interesting experiments on display here, and devotees of this branch of electronica will likely find themselves curious just to hear what a Mouse on Mars/Machinedrum collab sounds like (the answer: pretty much what you'd expect, and it's quite pleasant). But the amount of fluff here makes it a strictly fans-only proposition; there's simply not enough greatness present to justify the double-album runtime, and the lack of any real pacing or structure certainly doesn't help. If you're new to the band's music, absolutely check out Glam or Autoditacker, but this collection may not be worth the time or effort.

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