German producers Mouse on Mars have a gift for making electronic bleeps and buzzes sound like tangible objects that bounce, bend and collide in physical space. Parastrophics, their tenth studio album if you're not counting a side project with the Fall's Mark E. Smith, is a surreal pop record that gleefully warps the tones and inflections of modern radio tunes into funhouse mirror abstractions.
You don't expect bands like Mouse on Mars to be around for two decades. When Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma debuted under that name in 1994 with Vulvaland, a pillowy-soft album that found threads between UK post-rock and ambient house, other artists on their label included Th' Faith Healers, Moonshake, Seely, and Laika, bands that would be pretty much done by the turn of the millennium.
The duo of Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma made a heap of amazing records throughout the ’90s under the name Mouse on Mars. Starting out as a sort of post-shoegaze, bliss-heavy electronic group, they boldly went into the IDM era (i.e. you can’t dance to it) and created albums that were bizarre headphone trippers.
That Mouse On Mars have been making and releasing electronic music of the most far-reaching, playful and joyous kind for the best part of 18 years, is a fact that is quite honestly beggars belief. OK, so Jan St Werner and Andi Toma have been ‘on a break’ since 2006, concentrating on solo projects and collaborations rather than the MoM brand, but their overall career (if you want to call it that) arc is remarkably consistent. Early albums such as Vulvaland (1994) and Iahora Tahiti (1995) mixed a dance music approach with ambient styling, but even at this early stage on the latter you can detect the wild eclecticism of later albums.
The early 2010s saw the resurgence of some of the acts that made electronic music so vital in the '90s and early 2000s, such as Plaid and, especially, Mouse on Mars. It felt like the duo burned their music down to the ground with 2006's abrasive Varcharz, after which they seemingly disappeared. However, during the nearly six years between that album and Parastrophics, Jan St.
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Mouse on MarsParastrophics[Monkeytown; 2012]By Brendan Frank; February 28, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetMouse on Mars have developed a reputation for churning out schizophrenic music. From freeform electro-jams, ambient drawls, eccentric dance numbers, often all crammed into the same record, their creativity has yielded omnivorous music that’s as peculiar and and evocative as their name. Parastrophics is their tenth studio release, and first on fellow countrymen Modeskeletor’s Monkeytown label.
If Mouse On Mars' recent performances of Stockhausen and remixes of Popul Vuh represented Jan St Werner and Andi Toma paying tribute to their Germanic experimental ancestors, then Modeselektor signing them to the Monkeytown label is like Mouse On Mars receiving similar respect from their descendants. The two groups might not bear much resemblance on the surface, but Modeselektor have clearly inherited Mouse On Mars' mischievous humour; turning both preconceptions about "intelligent" dance music—and its po-faced frown—upside down. However, listening to Mouse On Mars' 11th album in two decades, you can also discern their influence cropping up elsewhere in the six years since their last full-length.
Remaining an extant artist on the tempestuous waters of the electronic music scene is an admirable feat. Over ten albums, German electronic atomizers Jan St. Wener and Andi Toma (aka Mouse on Mars) have managed to do just that. They've also stayed relevant, whether through constant transmutation, general unpredictability, or through their innate knack for testing their audience's partience and devotion without completely leaving them in the dust.
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.
For people who aren’t fans of the genre, techno sounds utterly undistinguishable. Many will liken it to that stuff pumping through that scene in the first Blade movie where Wesley Snipes goes on a killing spree in the vampire blood-rave. Even for the casual listener, trying to figure out the difference between IDM and microhouse can be daunting. Honestly I’m not really sure there is one.
Over the course of their eleven album career, Mouse On Mars have inhabited a different musical vernacular for each release. Most recently, 2006’s ‘Varchaz’ was an industrial slab of noise, influencing their subsequent collaboration with Mark E. Smith on the following year’s ‘Von Sudenfed’ album. Five years on, the duo have assimilated their influences (and those they have influenced) on ‘Parastrophics’, a gleeful mishmash of restless, bleeping synths, glitch-infused histrionics and searing shards of white noise.What’s most notable about ‘Parastrophics’ is the extensive use of vocal samples.
When Mouse on Mars entered the musical landscape 18 years ago, the band's rich layering and melodic structures felt more in line with the fledgling indie rock scene. In 2004, a decade after releasing their much-loved debut, the Düsseldorf duo took the irony out of the "D" in IDM with the aptly titled Radical Connector. Their tenth LP (and first in six years), Parastrophics combines the head of early Mouse on Mars with the heart of the latter.