September 17, 2004

Mouse on Mars "Radical Connector"


Over the last decade, electronic duo Mouse on Mars’ discography has
slowly shifted from the frothy ambience of their 1993 debut Vulvaland to the baroque pop and post-rock ambitions of 2000’s Niun Niggung. Their 2001 release Idiology, though, was the beginning of a more abrupt transition. Skittering wildly between genres, the album sounded like a compilation of brilliant outtakes from all phases of the duo’s career (even though it wasn’t), intermittently speckled with indications of where they wanted to go next. Idiology marked the first appearance of vocals on a MOM record, a slightly shocking move from a duo that redundantly titled one of its albums Instrumentals. Then-new drummer Dodo Nkishi provided alien yet subdued vocals that ranged from dub-plate toasting (“Doit”) to arch Jon Langford-style crooning (the still-wonderful “Presence“). As surprising as hiscontributions were, they did little to prepare us for the bomb that MOM was going to drop next…and I mean “bomb” in the hip-hop sense!

Vocals are featured prominently on every song of MOM’s new album
Radical Connector, and they’re all run through a dazzling array of DSP cutups that would make Prefuse 73’s Scott Herren cry “notebooks out, plagiarists!” However, if Prefuse 73’s modus operandi is to pay tribute to pre-1973 pre-fusion jazz through the sonic manipulation of modern IDM, then Radical Connector’s aim is to do the same with post-1973 funk. Nkishi’s singing on “Wipe That Sound” has the same warped drawl as Cameo’s Larry Blackmon, and portions of the song bear the same lopsided syncopation of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog.” The coy, erotic whispers and gospel-like multipart harmonies of “Blood Comes” bring to mind the darker moments of Prince’s early ‘80s material, whereas the sweet keyboards and jazzy drumming of “Detected Beats” recall the lighter funk of Parade. The melody-free “All the Old Powers” is basically an almost intelligible rap ground into bits and sprinkled atop a slow, menacing beat. The micro-house rhythms and airy female cooing of “Send Me Shivers” and album closer “Evoke an Object” sound straight off of an Ellen Allien record. This newfound funkification of Mouse on Mars’ music is even more of a breakthrough than the dominance of vocals. To be frank, Radical Connector is the first Mouse on Mars album that I could play in its entirety at a black frat party without (too much) fear that I would get laughed out of the club.

Of course, MOM geniuses Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner haven’t completely abandoned their old sound. Traces of Niun Niggung appear most often during the various mid-song breakdowns. Opener “Mine Is In Yours” is interrupted by psychedelic guitars and vocal harmonies that sound like the Beach Boys on helium. “The End” starts out as stomping trip-hop only to disintegrate into near-nothingness halfway through, when strummed guitars and synthesized orchestras noodle themselves into a pleasant torpor. “Blood
Comes” sports a dissonant orchestral crescendo similar to that of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” No matter how funky or psychedelic the music gets, though, MOM maintains its commitment to inserting squelchy sound effects into every nook and cranny. The percussion track of “Spaceship” sounds as if it was constructed by samples of endlessly ricocheting pinballs.

From beginning to end, Radical Connector functions as both a scintillating headphone listen and a catalyst for lascivious ass-shaking. Too many Intelligent Dance Music albums forget the “dance” part of the equation. I’m glad, though, that Toma and Werner finally remembered.

---Sean Padilla

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