Von Südenfed Tromatic Reflexxions

[Domino; 2007]

Styles: the soundtrack of scaling and gutting a disco fish
Others: Mouse on Mars, The Fall, Kid 606, Luke Vibert, Mr. Oizo

Never meet your heroes. If you do, do not collaborate with them. Those are relatively simple pieces of advice for anyone, but rarely heeded. I have suppressed the urge to board a plane to seek out one Mark E. Smith -- enigmatic and (there is no avoiding it... here it comes everybody...) cantankerous leader of The Fall for almost 30 years now -- to grapple on issues over the course of dozens of pub pints. If I could actually play any instrument half-way decently, I might have tried to by now, but I know my limitations. For the second time in their careers, Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner, known collectively as German über-electro duo Mouse On Mars, have ignored cautionary collaboration tales and will team up with Smith again, this time for a full-length album recorded under the guise Von Südenfed.

I’ve never paid attention to another adage about heroes: to not let them cloud your judgment. Generally speaking, if a band gets described as “Fall-like” or if an album even remotely sniffs of Smith, I’m all over it like Hollywood on a hot cause célèbre. Thankfully, when it comes to The Fall, my objectivity rarely comes into question because love him or loathe him, Mark E. Smith never makes dull records. Even the most die-hard Fall fans will concede there are ‘lesser’ Fall albums, but compared to the floating stinkfests that muddy our musical waters all the time, they are always entertaining and worth your while.

I will attempt to remain impartial, but the idea of the Hip Priest ranting on a number of inane subjects with backing from Mouse on Mars is as welcoming a thought as a feast of favorite comfort food. I hate to throw in an easy press release quote, but I will anyway. Mouse On Mars’ Jan St. Werner sums up the Von Südenfed aesthetic when he says, “I feel like now it doesn’t matter, it’s not important, which decade you’re referencing or whether you’ve got the coolest break or electronic trick. It’s just the energy that counts.” True to his word, Tromatic Relexxions comes at you with plenty of energy and obvious historical reflexxions: dark dancefloor convulsions, joyful LCD Soundsystem-like soul stompers, plenty of tinny (not tiny) tough beats, and acoustic meditations.

Like any Mouse on Mars or Fall album, there are grating moments. For example, like on “Serious Brainskin,” which to these ears uses just the sort of electronic tricks that St. Werner pooh-poohs above (spliced vocal sampling and diced electro beats, a farting robot, etc.). Also, while it is refreshing to hear Smith’s vocals taken to rarely-ventured places, with a couple of exceptions (“That Sound Wiped,” “Flooded”) many fans will bemoan the fact that the lyrics themselves have still not returned to the dizzying heights of fascinating weirdness that characterized The Fall’s first 10 or so albums. The qualms and quibbles are trivial, however. For the most part, it all fits together like a taut Teutonic dominatrix glove, almost so much you would forget Smith asked “What’s a computer?” almost 24 years ago on Perverted by Language’s “Eat Y’self Fitter.”

Smith, of course, is quite aware what a computer is and has employed them quite successfully in The Fall’s music before. For a Fall fanatic, part of the excitement of Von Südenfed is rekindling the spirit of The Fall’s more adventurous electronic- and programmed-beat periods. For music lovers, it just sounds good. While Smith always provides an overwhelming presence, it must be noted that Mouse On Mars sound as precise and sharp as ever. Tromatic Reflexxions sounds OCD-clean when it should and gets dirty at times too. On “Speech Contamination/German Fear of Österreich” the crystal-clear combines with friendly fuzz underneath the bilious shitstorm of Smith talking German that is probably even indecipherable to his Berlin-based bandmates. And it is priceless.

There is a lot to like on Tromatic Reflexxions: the slow tin-can techno of “Family Feud” (with its “I am the great MES!”), the stuttering strut of lead-off single “Fledermaus Can’t Get It,” and “The Rhinohead,” a song that, in a perfect world, should be a dancefloor-filling smash on both sides of the Atlantic, period. There is no real chance of that happening, but the track is as irresistible as anything James Murphy or The Chemical Brothers have done. As good as the first few tunes on this album are, it also ends really well and unexpectedly. “Chicken Yiamas” is an acoustic down-home ditty featuring the album's most bizarre vocal accompaniment (“They said boil the chicken/ I said no...I cannot boooooiiil the chicken/ I had to modify the chicken/ Yiama yiama yiama…I had to boil... the chicken/ YIAMIYIAMIYIAMIYIAMIYIAMA!“). The aforementioned “That Sound Wiped” is a groovy grower that has Smith sweetly sounding very much like Happy Mondays' Shawn Ryder when he tried his hand at high-register crooning. “Dear Dead Friends” is an icy cool closer that has MoM tinkering behind MES moaning about how his friends are dead and gone.

There will be many people who will argue that Tromatic Reflexxions is a dividing record, that people will either be intoxicated with it or infuriated by it, or that you need to be a fan of either The Fall (especially) or Mouse on Mars to appreciate it. If anything, this unexpected union should bring new fans to each artist’s music, because it really is more fun, accessible, and better than one would expect. Regardless, Tromatic Reflexxions is an unqualified success, no matter what anyone says or thinks. How’s that for being objective?

1. Fledermaus Can’t Get It
2. The Rhinohead
3. Flooded
4. Family Feud
5. Serious Brainskin
6. Speech Contamination/German Fear of Österreich
7. The Young the Faceless and the Codes
8. Duckrog
9. Chicken Yiamas
10. That Sound Wiped
11. Jback Lois Lane
12. Dear Dead Friends

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