splendid > reviews > 9/21/2004
Mouse on Mars
Mouse on Mars
Radical Connector
Thrill Jockey

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Wipe That Sound"

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Whenever a musical group takes a leap toward increased accessibility, writers and critics take it upon themselves to warn diehard fans that they might be disappointed with the more masses-pleasing new direction. However, the giddy shift towards pop and even traditional dance music structure that Mouse on Mars take here is so irresistibly fun and persuasive that the very thought of loyalists furrowing their brows and crossing their arms is comical.

Then again, anyone who's followed the duo over their ten year lifespan is already accustomed to ninety degree turns and radical reinvention. 2000's playful Niun Niggung, with its heavy emphasis on live instrumentation and melody, was their great lightening up, while Idiology built on that with the addition of vocals and a more daringly destructive approach to beatmaking. Radical Connector synthesizes both of those albums' progressions as it sneaks out of class to listen to Top 40 radio and put its toes on the dance floor.

The album starts with such a life-affirming one-two kapow that premature comedown is a given. Opener "Mine Is in Yours" is a mind-warpingly entertaining head-bobber packed with more hidden surprises than many electronic artists' full discographies. Showing that the vocoder is still a valid crutch if used without exploitation, Dodo Nkishi's vocals are the smooth casing around the jumping-bean beats. Suddenly, the music pulls out and gives way to a glimmering electric guitar line; when the beat, now beefier and louder, returns in an orgasmic blast, it just might be the most thrilling musical moment of your year.

"Wipe That Sound" is similarly hedonistic, its heavy, dare I say "crunked-out" beats reaching out a hand to Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx fans alike. It's correctly been hyped as their most danceable song yet, as it seems to ditch all intellectual pretensions and finds its muse solely in the pleasure principle. Its lyrics, heavily diced in the mix, are appropriately scatterbrained -- "wind up my wind with your grinder / with width up my vain / cut the gain / hurt me, hurt me twice / the trash will hit".

Following this exclamatory introduction, Radical Connector settles into only slightly more traditional Mouse on Mars mode. Tracks like "All the Old Powers" produce a different kind of excitement: the beats are heavy and the layers meticulously crafted. Like most of MoM's best songs, it is structurally fascinating and viscerally powerful despite the fact that you could never dance to it.

Niobe's Björk-like, spine-tingling vocals highlight "Send Me Shivers" and the apocalyptic yet gorgeous "The End", both reminiscent of the Laetitia Sadier collaborations from Cache Coeur Naif. As on Idiology tracks like "Presence", Nkishi's oft-processed pipes add even more humanity to Mouse on Mars's already tangible electronics. Only his clumsy democracy allegory, "Spaceship" (its lyrics co-written by MoM, it should be added), flounders.

Mouse on Mars's interest in deconstructionist aesthetics and warm accessibility has never conflicted, due in part to the fact that Jan St. Werner has been able to vent some of his more obtuse inclinations in his Microstoria and Lithops projects. If pop and dance strains are more dominant on Radical Connector than on previous outings, it's never (save "Wipe That Sound") at the expense of the sound that has made the group so dependably great. When the musicians are having more fun, we can only benefit.



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