Mouse On Mars
I remember back in the day when I first heard Mouse On Mars. It was on their debut full-length album Vulvaland (which admittingly had me interested by it's title alone, wondering whether it would be some electro porn soundtrack) that I discovered the group and their strange and interesting take on electronic music. Although I didn't stick to them like glue and buy every album that they released, I kept track of what was going on with them and picked up random releases like Autoditaker and Niun Nuggung. It's almost strange to think that they've been around for the better part of a decade now, even though they've managed to make themselves very prolific in the process. Not only have they released one full-length album almost every year since their inception, but they've collaborated with Stereolab and others, released many singles, remixed other artists work, and even started their own label.
It was with Niun Nuggung that the group started messing around with their sound a little more (not really more playful, as they've always been one of the more sonically playful electronic groups out there). They started bringing a few more organic elements into the mix (even *gasp* guitars) and breaking out of the sounds that people associated with the group. That very experimentation continues with Idiology to an even greater extent, with the group encorporating tons of actual played instruments into the release (albeit, with a lot of studio trickery) and even *gasp* vocals (although at some points they simply become another wacky element in the mixture). In addition to their usual equipment, they hauled everything from a bass clarinets and trumpets to a grand piano and stringed instruments like cellos, fiddles, violins, and bass guitar.
You'll get a good idea of things as soon as the first song on the album ("Actionist Respoke") kicks into gear. After a couple seconds of complete silence, a huge pulsing beat drops in along with some chopped-up vocals before an even bigger two-step sounding beat drops in behind that all and threatens to slam things even more. With vocals that are spliced and garbled and then shoved through a cheese grater, it makes for a rather thundering, opening track that is fun to sing along with nonsensically. The second track "Subsequence" sounds like it's going to be on par for the group, mixing their usual gurgling beats with some more breathy samples.
That is, until the piano solo comes in and blanks out everything but the beat. Eventually, the song layers up even more sounds, until you've got what sounds like a french horn, some string instruments, and other random bubbly noises going over the original piano and beat. It reaches sort of a workout frenzy, then drops off again and a computerized voice repeats a one-syllable word over the original beat. It's goofy and playful and after they work things up to another crescendo, you've had a workout even though it's a slower track. Although the third track stumbles a smidge with airy vocals and a sort of unfocused second half, the very next track of "The Ilking" shows the group creating a mini-symphony with their new bag of instruments, sounding like a more dense High Llamas.
On the three track punch of "Doit," "First: Break," and "Introduce," the duo gradually step things up from giddy to downright slamming. The first track is sort of a light, bouncy number with almost sing along vocals while the middle track sounds like a more clanging and chaotic soundtrack to the moment in old cartoons where characters are chasing one another through a packaging plant. The third of them sounds like the logical cousin to the album-opening track with another rumbling beat and digitally-vocals that sound like they were forced out of someone by jumping up and down on top of them (the vocalist for different tracks on the disc is drummer Dodo Nkishi). One of the best tracks on the album is also one of the shortest, though. "Paradical" runs just over two minutes, but manages to create an amazingly sweet song out of instruments that sound like they're being played as if they weren't intended to be.
Overall, it's probably their most layered album ever, and one that you can listen to over and over and still hear new things going on within it. It's a bit uneven in places, but the duo makes up for things by flying into things with almost reckless abandon. There are tons of different sounds and song structures (it jumps from harder to almost symphonic in the course of only a couple tracks), and it's easy to tell that the duo had a blast making the disc. If the group continues in the same direction and refines things even a bit more in the future, I personally can't wait to see what they pull off.