In a genre in which styles, methods and ideas are traded as quickly and indiscriminately as zero-day warez, Mouse on Mars have the distinction of sounding like...themselves. It's possible to mistake µ-ziq for Aphex Twin, and simple enough to confuse Oval with numerous contemporaries/followers/imitators, but Mouse on Mars is always distinctive. Call it an organic touch, if you like; as most cutting-edge electronic artists are gravitating to the glitch, Mouse on Mars continues to work with the squelch. If anything, they're moving more toward meatspace with each successive release, and Idiology takes a couple of big steps forward.
Let's address the most obvious change first: there are "vocals" here. Performed by drummer Dodo Nkishi in a style that's equal portions singing, rapping and a sort of post-industrial declamation, they are treated less as lyrics than an unusually agile and variable type of keyboard. On Idiology's opening track, "Actionist Respoke", you'll hear Nkishi's voice pulled along the same twisted technical path that warps and deforms the rest of the music. The words are stretched into choppy, granular chunks -- the aural equivalent of seeing big, blocky pixels all over the screen -- and squeezed into illogical balloon-animal waveforms, making it sound as if Nkishi is swallowing large pieces of glassware as he performs. Nkishi also contributes to MoM's curious but laudable attempt at a post-millennial pop sound, adding soft, lilting vocals to the lush drone and elegant orchestrations of "Presence" -- think bionic Brian Wilson. Frankly, any time a predominantly electronic group can produce vocals that aren't spoken or screamed, it's cause for celebration. Nkishi, who seems to have a broad range (both stylistically and sonically) of delivery, also understands that his voice must pass through the same evolutionary tweak-factory as the other elements in the mix. His addition holds much promise for the group's future.
It's also pleasing to see that Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner want to expand their sound beyond the clicks, pops, squelches, hisses and squiggles that have become their trademark. On Idiology, they seem to revel in the opportunity to incorporate and subvert traditional instruments, and they've brought along a miniature orchestra to tinker with. "Subsequence" absorbs jazzy horn riffs and piano loops into its cyborg swing, while "The Illking" takes "Presence"'s lead, blossoming into a beautiful orchestral piece populated by vibrant horns and strings. At the other end of the spectrum, "Fantastic Analysis" is downright Tortoise-y, mixing a series of "real" instruments -- piano, guitar, bass, wind instruments, strings and so forth -- to create a gorgeous, sedately meditative swirl of textures, and gilding them with the subtle sheen of digital manipulation.
Longtime MoM fans who are alarmed by this progression will be reassured by Idiology's middle section, which is Toma and St. Werner at their most agitative. Jittery tracks like "Doit" and the aggro-intensive "Introduce" bristle with energy while advancing the "traditional" Mouse on Mars techno-organic formula, perhaps best described as the sound of robots chewing.
If last year's Niun Niggung left you worried that Mouse on Mars were reaching the end of their creative road, take heart -- they've turned a crucial corner and there's nothing but highway in front of them.