Could we be seeing an end to the era of the mau5 head?
Hello readers! If you made it to this page, then congratulations and welcome to this review of Deadmau5’s record Album Title Goes Here. Obviously you managed to sidestep any sudden outages that the servers at PopMatters must have suffered at the moment this went live. That in itself is great news considering the support staff are currently preoccupied with swimming in the pools of cash resulting from the veritable storm of click-throughs and ad revenue. Facebook and Twitter are ghost towns! It’s not every day that a humble writer such as myself gets to invoke trigger names which send Google Alerts clanging like church bells from pole to pole. Legions of you put down your glow-sticks and floppy ears and pulled over your convertibles long enough to answer the beacon of your Blackberries, and we certainly appreciate it. Please excuse any typos that may have resulted from writing this while wearing the new mau5 head I was up all night crafting for the special occasion. The glue is still wet, and the fumes have not entirely dissipated, but don’t worry about me—I’ll be fine. Those of you who have never heard of Deadmau5—OMGZ! LMFAO!! As if!!! etc. Seriously though—if you are reading this from the 90’s rave scene via drug-induced time travel, welcome! When you wake up in eight hours, this article will be a vague recollection of something you thought you read in a dream, but the sound associated with it will linger for decades unchanged, I promise you. Is it hot in here?
Canadian electronic music artist Joel Zimmerman has reached celebrity status by wearing a giant, vaguely malevolent but playful mouse head while playing the music he produced in his home studio. His shows have grown from guy-with-a-bingo-table-on-a-stage to massive, sold out shows featuring groundbreaking visual displays in a relatively short period of time. Indeed the EDM (electronic dance music) genre is presently enjoying an arms race of stage constructs that would outshine KISS at their biggest moment. LEDs are the new pyrotechnics, and the ear-shattering build-ups of electro squelches are the new relentless guitar solos. It would not be an overstatement to say that Deadmau5 has raised the bar for what an electronic music performance can and should be. He is arguably the world’s most popular name in electronic music, and his fans range from reverent pre-teens to cynical beards.
All of that is in spite of relative simplistic but signature nature of his sound. His tracks are immediately recognizable—impossible pin-drop clear production, moody chords, and hard, wide bass with a bounce. By simple, I don’t mean to suggest it’s easy music to make. On the contrary, there are few artists who deliver to the standard that Deadmau5 does consistently. Simplicity and formula sometimes has the greatest mass appeal, as anyone who remembers Technotronic can attest. Suffice it to say that Deadmau5 is absolutely huge in both sound and presence, and he comes by it honestly.
Every Deadmau5 record to date has featured the ubiquitous mau5 head on the cover. The single for “Professional Griefers” revealed the first crack in the armour we’ve seen. Here the right ear is visibly broken off, and the face is replaced by what is presumable a photograph of his cat, “Professor Meowingtons” completely exposed. Could this be a harbinger for a change in approach? This latest release also contains far more subdued and introspective material than most of those previous, and I can’t help but wonder if the era of the mau5 head may be coming to an end. My suspicions increased when he appeared on a recent iTunes Festival performance without it.
The unfortunately named Album Title Goes Here sees Deadmau5 taking the guest spots and cross-over experiments a little further—mostly without success. “Superliminal” starts strong with some synth pulses which suggest another experiment in dubstep but instead drop into a hard club beat. It’s an exciting way to begin, and the following “Channel 42” delivers a similar straight-ahead club vibe. “Professional Griefers”, the most buzz-worthy single (featuring Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance), is one of the least enjoyable. Way is essentially yelling in time to the beat, which sounds surprisingly amateur. His vocals slam down on top of every kick, essentially cancelling out the mix and making the track more irritating than anything. The listener feels alienated until the chorus comes in. The hook is a stark contrast in that it actually works really well, which is possibly a feeling more akin to relief than enjoyment. You find yourself wishing the vocals would continue on longer. The whole thing seems a bit ill-conceived. It’s as though he and Gerard met at a party and said, “Hey - let’s do something together”. They did—and it’s bad.
“Telemiscommunications” is too minimal to be interesting, consisting of Imogen Heap’s signature harmonized vocals over a scarce and recurring series of chords. If there is a melody, it’s lost like a ring of smoke swallowed in the expanse of the quiet. The only beat here is clicking, which distracts. It’s not particularly entertaining and comes off like filler. We move on.
Easily the most repeatable and appealing collaboration on the album is “Failbait” with veteran rappers Cypress Hill. If Zimmerman ventured into Crystal Method territory a little more like this, he’d be onto something. He pulls this one off beautifully as an electro-funk shuffle, which was actually released for free on the Internet months before the record came out. I had it on heavy repeat then, and I still do now.
What Zimmerman does really well and what made his previous records so appealing is the marriage of melodies and thick club grooves that sound weightier than other producers. You can tell he pays attention to his craft like it’s a science. Like it or not, Deadmau5 is a talented music producer, and nowhere is that more apparent than when he’s sticking to what he does well. On the reworking of the previously released “Strobe” and the opening few minutes of “Fn Pig”, he simply strips the beat away and shows us unexpectedly just how great these melodies work on their own. Despite his own testament to a lack of musical ability outside of how it sounds in his head, Zimmerman reveals himself as a bit of a shark. These tracks are the strongest on the album. “Fn Pig” in particular is a total floor filler with a funky and infectious groove. This will undoubtedly become one of the most played tracks on the record.
My 13-year-old cousin asked me a few weeks ago if I’d ever read Ray Bradbury’s classic sci-fi short story “The Veldt”. I might like it, he said. Once I got over my initial shock that he read things which didn’t appear on internet memes, much less the work of classic sci-fi authors, I found out he’d pursued it after reading about Deadmau5’s single by the same name. Let it never be said that music can’t be an agent for positive change. For every oddity of Deadmau5’s public persona, there’s a lot to respect about his very direct engagement with his fans. One of these fans is previously little known singer Chris James, who was invited to contribute vocals to “The Veldt” after Zimmerman discovered him through social media—a point which I find as admirable as it is unfortunate. Props to him for giving a little known artist some spotlight on his record, but the risk doesn’t really pay off even with heavy layering. It’s just too syrupy for the mood of the track to be taken seriously, and it’s not particularly memorable. The music holds it together, though, and the vocals are mixed down well enough that you can at least ignore them and focus on the positive.
Sleepless is fairly uncharacteristic—a slowed down analog drum break beating over the officially done-to-death trope of a SAM computer generated voice on vocals. Think: Fitter.. happier…. Can we declare a moratorium on this now? Once that’s out of the way, it’s a great track that wouldn’t be out of place in a DJ Shadow set.
“Closer” plays off the chords, which greet aliens in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Is it mockery or homage? You decide. Either way, it’s weak. The chuckle at recognition works once, but then the joke is over, and the track is just getting started. It doesn’t hold interest beyond those opening bars.
“Maths” has a strong groove, but at almost seven minutes of a repeating note progression climbing up and up and up. It’s far too repetitive. “There Might be Coffee” saves the day, however. It’s a fantastic instrumental club track with a gentle and pleasing instrumentation and synth lines. “Take Care of the Proper Paperwork” is an exciting build-up intro for seven minute and 13 seconds to a track that never begins.
Overall, this record will please fans of Deadmau5’s previous work and may even gain him some new ones. Though it doesn’t strike me as having the longevity of Random Album Title or 4x4=12, it’s nonetheless worth the price of admission. The tracks that work are fantastic, and those that don’t can be ignored in the in-between. Deadmau5 has earned his reputation as the foremost electronic dance music producer, and that talent is evident here, even if not to the same proportions as his previous work. But the increasing amount of exploration here may very well indicate the start of a new direction.