Review: Mouse on Mars – Parastrophics
Published on February 17th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
The buzz: German duo Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma sign to Modeselektor‘s Monkeytown label, return with their tenth album as Mouse on Mars, and first since 2006’s Varcharz (or 2007, if you count Mark E. Smith collaboration Tromatic Reflexxions, released under the name Von Südenfed). In a November interview with Rocksucker, St. Werner said of Parastrophics (which incidentally you can hear clips of here)…
“I think for us it definitely has a different sound from what we’ve done before. For us it’s like a journey: the movement and transition is what’s interesting to us much more than the place where you finally arrive, or the goal that you might have. It’s hard to say…I think everything I would come up with [to say about it] would also work with any of our previous records. I guess it’s more club-related in a way. It’s quite a journey in itself, probably less neurotic in detail. It has a certain relaxedness, I guess. It’s probably the most digital-sounding record so far, without meaning that it sounds clean or harsh. It’s not the stereotype of digital, I just think it has a different sound to it.
“With this new album, we found a new sound, you could say. It’s still very much our sound – it’s the sound that we want, that we want to hear, that we want to be – but we had to find this again by using basically digital technology and less analog equipment, or at least samplers which still have an analog input/output kind of interface. It’s very much based on computer processing but we still wanted something very organic and that has its own unique sound, like a Beach Boys sound in digital or something. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain.”
Sounds like: Perhaps Mouse on Mars’s most diverse album since 2001’s Idiology, and one which confirms their status as Rocksucker’s favourite functioning electronic artist. Parastrophics is a master class, a seminar of what pop music might sound like if it was all – the entire history of it – condensed together in the blown artificial mind of a robot on acid, a futuristic and glacial yet warm and colourful trip through thirteen typically distinctive and addictive songs.
Opener “The Beach Stop” immediately announces itself as a twinkling, chiming, glitching, glowing, colourful thing, squelching synthily around in aural bubble wrap, all luminous pinks and yellows with manic ‘orchestra hit’ plinks, sounding a bit like a malfunctioning Game Boy by dint of 8-bit-aping synths that reoccur across the album. There’s even a female voice whispering something; it’s all fabulous brain food.
“Chordblocker, Cinnamon Toasted” is a totally odd, totally gorgeous experience, with someone – Dodo NKishi? – uttering what sounds for all the world like “Facebook’s a cock-blocker”, followed by something about a “frosted flake” and “cinnamon toasted crunch”, all over a manically revving synth which then gives away to an utterly delightful, felty, wobbly cartoon-psych synth that sounds almost as if it could be old school jazz trumpets parping sassily away. The track is then imbued with a tropical feel by Brian Wilson-y Hawaiian guitar twangs as the rhythm section fizzles and pops gently along. Wonderful.
“Metrotopy” starts with a sort of synth bhangra that could easily pass as the kind ‘annoying sound’ riff that could be a massive hit these days – think something like “We Speak No Americano” – but this particular annoying noise dances seductively before turning into a chattery-voice and ambient synth affair that sounds like it could break out into an Experience-era Prodigy tune at any moment. These two sections are aired alternately, as if flirting with each other, and why not?
Initially a stompy percussive work-out, “Wienuss” wields a shuddering synth bass which then either turns into, or paves the way for, a higher-pitched sort of flutter which is subsequently paired off with a slyly plinking 8-bit hook. “They Know Your Name” then gets the album up and dancing, a bubbling, squelching throwback to Idiology opener “Actionist Respoke”. Dodo’s (if they are) vocals are fed through an alien-like effect, then sliced up and served with infectious funkiness, the steady beat making it one of the most outright danceable songs on the record, its monotone synth riff fired off at strange intervals like someone unloading a ray gun into the air.
“Syncropticians” could nestle quite nicely on Twoism by Boards of Canada, being as it is icily monged glitch’n’click that also brings to mind Crewdson; there are ambient sounds in there, alright, but they’re such disorientingly rendered ambient that you could argue that “ambient” is inherently excluded as a possible description.
The weird, creepy child voice that adorns “Cricket” has of course a touch of the Aphex Twins about it; it takes a while to get there, but eventually it breaks into a sort of cross between slappy electro cosmic digi-funk, the short-circuiting Game Boy returning to the fray to dance along with the magnificent glow worm synths. Meanwhile,“iMatch” feels like ‘80s synth-pop staggering about in an hallucinatory daze, while “Polaroyced” fires off buzzing cartoon synths that sound tunefully along to jittery yet harmonic chords and an electro ‘dance-off’ beat.
“Polaroyced” and the ensuing, glassily twangy “Gearknot Cherry” anchor Parastrophics like a highly effective central midfield partnership, both unpretentious, bewildering, bewitching and dripping with good humour in a way that accounts for even the tracks on the album that sound very different. The penultimate “Baku Hipster” is most certainly one such song, abrasive and discordant, yet compellingly so; a bit like Varcharz and Tromatic Reflexxions, really. Truly Mouse on Mars have the rare knack of being able to make annoying kinds of music sound utterly brilliant when they put their own personal slant on it.
Closer “Seaqz” starts out like a techno rave, with steady digital watch bleeps and blaring squiggly noises that sound like Pac-Man on fire, but a few minutes in, smooth ambient bubbles – and that’s Mouse on Mars ‘ambient’, which isn’t normal ‘ambient – are brought in to complement the frenetic pulse that makes it, alongside “They Know Your Name”, the most danceable song on the album. The album draws to a close with ‘state of alarm’ siren synths that are too cartoony to feel ominous, summing up nicely just what a friendly attack of an album Parastrophics is.
In short: They may sound confusing, even alienating to some people, but in Rocksucker’s book Mouse on Mars still can’t put a foot wrong. An astonishing and ambitious undertaking that ups an already first-class game.
Sounds like: Everything and nothing, if you’ll excuse the concession to cliché.
Rocksucker says: Nine Quails out of Ten!
Parastrophics, the new album from Mouse on Mars, will be released 24th February on Monkeytown Records. You can hear snippets of most of the album’s songs here. For more information and a list of live dates, please visit www.mouseonmars.com