Mice Parade: What It Means to Be Left-Handed

At the crossroads of post-rock, noise-pop, and world music, Mice Parade has made its niche where indie becomes eclectic.

Mice Parade

What It Means to Be Left-Handed

Label: Fat Cat
US Release Date: 2010-09-14
UK Release Date: 2010-09-27

At the crossroads of post-rock, noise-pop, and world music, Mice Parade has made its niche where indie becomes eclectic. So when you notice that Mice Parade describes itself as "flamenco" in addition to "shoegaze" on its MySpace page, it's not done so with tongue in cheek: Band mastermind Adam Pierce is the kind of adventurous experimenter who probably wants to incorporate every sound and instrument he hears into Mice Parade's mix, be it a strummy acoustic guitar, intricate polyrhythmic percussion or perfectly executed white-noise feedback. It's Pierce's use of all these elements and more that speak to the strengths and weaknesses of the group's latest album, What It Means to Be Left-Handed, which is wonderfully open-minded at points, but frustratingly unfocused at others. While Pierce's fine-tuned ear and sweet tooth for miscellany can inspire admiration, the intriguing parts don't always congeal into a whole, as Mice Parade often seems to opt for sounds over songs.

When you first hear What It Means to Be Left-Handed, it's almost as if Mice Parade is trying to hit the Afropop trifecta alongside Vampire Weekend and Dirty Projectors, though Pierce appears more interested in the finer points of composition than in creating perfect pop gems, as his more acclaimed counterparts aim for. In effect, the first two tracks "Kupanda" and "In Between Times" do for world music what post-rock did for cheesy jazz and prog, trying to make their inspiration relevant, but not wholly succeeding in selling it convincingly, either. While the delicate guitar picking, authentic Senegalese kora, and plump percussion of "Kupanda" create a pleasant, laid-back vibe, the leadoff number almost gives the wrong idea of the album as a whole, coming off more like an African music sampler than a counterpart to, say, Bitte Orca. Or maybe that's exactly the impression that Mice Parade wants to make, since many of the early tracks have a similar feel to them. "In Between Times", the album's first single, might find itself more at ease in an indie comfort zone with its coating of reverb haze and its electronics tinged crescendos, but these dynamics seem to be in an odd tension with the organic guitars and Caroline Lufkin's almost new-agey banshee-like vocals.

Nothing typifies the all-over-the-place results of Pierce's everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach more than the album's most compelling epic, "Couches and Carpets". At once, it's saddled with the baggage of what some listeners might expect from world music, while also giving shape to the wonderful possibilities of cross-breeding different vernaculars. Beginning with what seems almost like an Andean arrangement, "Couches and Carpets", initially at least, doesn't sound too far removed from what one might hear at a multi-culti festival -- at least to the untrained ear -- what with its intro of fierce, frenetic acoustic guitars. But towards the end, the distorted feedback in the background makes itself noticed, providing a play in contrasting moods and textures you wouldn't have guessed was coming until it does. It's then that Mice Parade becomes a global-pop version of the Delgados to stunning effect, striking just the right chord through the unlikely combo of resonant flamenco flourishes, jazzy tropicalia panache, and all-encompassing shoegaze effects. Maybe it's missing the same element of surprise when it comes around a few tracks later, but "Recover" takes the winning formula of "Couches and Carpets" and runs with it, starting deliberately with picked guitars and hand-tapped rhythms, only to give way to a louder, sloppier, and faster arrangement played on electric guitars.

At points on What It Means to Be Left-Handed, you get the sense that there might just be a prolific straight-up indie band that's waiting to break out of the eclectic mix. A country-rock tune with a little giddy-up, the Lemonheads cover "Mallo Cup" shows off an appealing sense of urgency that's more direct than anything else on What It Means. But both "Mallo Cup" and the nice ditty "Even" feel like they end a little too abruptly, almost as if Pierce didn't quite know what to do with songs missing all the bells and whistles. It's only on the scuffed-up closing duet "Mary Anne", itself a cover of Fat Cat labelmate Tom Brosseau, that Pierce gives his indie instincts room to breathe, editing out some of the frills and embellishments to create a more immediate effect that hits with greater emotional impact.

For better or worse, it seems like Mice Parade would rather not do things the easy way. In the end, it's not on Pierce's shoulders what those with limited exposure to more diverse musical idioms know or don't know, though it can be difficult discerning what's an interesting play on those forms and what can seem like a hackneyed version of the original. If anything, that's actually as good a case as any to make for what Mice Parade's ambitions.






Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.