Mouse on Mars Parastrophics

[Monkeytown; 2012]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: IDM; glitch; experimental techno
Others: Modeselektor; Hudson Mohawke; Ellen Alien; Flying Lotus

In every city, you’ll find an artificial district that’s intended to attract the people who the city thinks it can produce: intrepid figures who shade their eyes in architect’s drawings, whose lives go by in a stylish blur of time-lapse photography, where night and day are fused in fevered productivity. These places are containers for aspirations that often exceed the capacity that reality can stand. At times, IDM and dance is viewed in a similar, suspicious way by music’s skeptical bystanders, who dismiss its programmed aesthetic as car-ad sleek. But mostly, people have become comfortable with this architecture existing in their everyday landscape.

I first listened to Parastrophics when I was feeling tired. My immediate reaction was that it was asking too much of me. It was music too energetic and shimmering for any human (not on uppers) to appreciate. There were too many ideas on display, but nothing was hammering home its point in a way that I, in my simple state of mind, could register. The next day, when my attention span was back on full beam, I caught a greater frequency of the myriad sound particles in suspension there, and I heard more of the playful energy that probably went into making it. I realized that Parastrophics is not an unwinding, ornamental album of sonic elaboration (like some of MoM’s other records, most notably Instrumental); it’s oddly utilitarian, geared towards dancing rather than listening. This is the type of music that reminds you that iTunes has made ‘party’ a utility.

This is strange, as despite their club sympathies, MoM have always seemed to enjoy throwing a spanner in the works and recording the sound of the mechanism chewing on their experiments. It was this perverseness that set MoM apart in my mind from the noodling DJs who cast out lengths of jam to distinguish their tracks as ‘intelligent” music, as different from “chill.” Sometimes Parastrophics is interrupted, as on “Cricket,” but in general, there is a lot of automated euphoric randomness that doesn’t provide the clear conceptual direction that MoM listeners might be used to. It has been six years, though, and the medley of results on Parastrophics shows that, since MoM last released an album, they have been listening with amusement as the world catches up with their experiments.

This is a laptop glitch-heavy record, made with purpose-built software that was created to process an orchestra on their last project. The god’s eye, collage perspective seems to have suited them in the past (their last album was named after a relational database term). Six years on, Parastrophics is a record made by even more omnipotent authors, informed by the many developments of recent years, as well as by their own long history. It feels like a breakdown of their association between party dance music and experimental electronic music, and even on some tracks like a deliberate deconstruction of the Hudson Mohawkes of this world. With the huge, lush 1980s intros — especially on “Polarycod” — and with titles like “Baku Hipster,” MoM might well be making fun of today’s trends. They’ve always employed whatever materials were lying around, from drum ‘n’ bass to dubstep, so it’s no surprise that they would take some current fashion and reconstitute it for themselves. What is surprising, however, is that they would do this by projecting a pressurized productivity that is more like today’s frantic polymath idealism than the slower, more distanced MoM craftsmen I’d imagined on previous albums.

Links: Mouse on Mars - Monkeytown

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