Mouse on Mars
en years into its career, Mouse on Mars has yet to release an album with a strong semblance to its predecessor. In fact, the ideological gap between each pair of Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma’s records has only been widening since the duo’s first two full-lengths, 1994’s Vulvaland and 1995’s Iaora Tahiti, the latter of which first moved the group’s sound away from the Orb-inspired ambient-house of the former.
This observation gained further credence upon the release of 2000’s Niun Niggung—whose giddy electronic bubbling, aided by horns and acoustic guitar, brought new meaning to the often cited “organic” feel of Mouse on Mars’ music—and 2001’s Idiology, which almost totally abandoned its antecedent’s natural playfulness in favor of jagged, bizarre experimentation.
Three years after its latest release, Mouse on Mars transforms its sound once again on Radical Connector, compressing Idiology’s harsh rhythms into nine relatively pop-oriented songs, informed by their precursors’ heavy beats and vocals, but taking fewer detours and relying more heavily on words. The change is typically drastic, but given the uncharacteristically long period spent in the studio this time around, the sum of worthwhile material is far less impressive.
It’s a shame, too, because Radical Connector kicks off as strongly as any Mouse on Mars release to date. Opener “Mine Is In Yours” gorgeously ascends from a simple, stomping dance beat into a multi-layered, furiously energetic climax, all the while benefiting from collaborator Dodo Nkishi’s vocals, which are given a much clearer presence than on Idiology. Nkishi also directs “Wipe That Sound” brilliantly, contributing astoundingly catchy vocals to the heavy groove that Thrill Jockey has rightly been hyping as the group’s most danceable track to date.
Despite this, only one of the remaining songs is on par with these two, and it’s deplorably nostalgic. “Send Me Shivers”, a lovely piece featuring vocals from Sonig collaborator Niobe, is practically identical to the Laetitia Sadier-fronted tracks from the Cache Coeur Naif EP. Mouse on Mars even retread the bouncy rhythms of the 1997 EP, conspicuously separating “Send Me Shivers” from its bass-heavy siblings.
Furthermore, there are a couple low points that truly cripple the album’s momentum, most of all “Spaceship”, which grates for five minutes of monotonous, chopped-up beats and presents a pretentious analogy between democracy and the titular vehicle. “The End” is similarly tiresome, developing a beat too similar to Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” to appreciate on its own.
In spite of its faults, though, Radical Connector adds another dimension and a few excellent songs to Mouse on Mars’ wide oeuvre, which is a laudable achievement so far into the duo’s career. Even if it doesn’t advance from Idiology as much as its lengthy development might imply, Radical Connector proves that ten years into the game, Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma still have no intention to repeat themselves.
Reviewed by: Kareem Estefan
Reviewed on: 2004-08-24