For people who aren’t fans of the genre, techno sounds utterly undistinguishable. Many will liken it to that stuff pumping through that scene in the first Blade movie where Wesley Snipes goes on a killing spree in the vampire blood-rave. Even for the casual listener, trying to figure out the difference between IDM and microhouse can be daunting. Honestly I’m not really sure there is one. (It probably has something to do with the number of ambient clicks per second.) Most people just aren’t all that interested in parsing through obscure subgenres.
If this sounds like a familiar problem then you’re in luck. Mouse on Mars is here to help you. With Parastrophics, their first full album in six years, and their first for Modeselektor’s Monkeytown label, the veteran German electronic producers seems to want to do all the heavy lifting for you. The album seems to want to function as a Coles Notes, bringing the reader up to speed on electronic music’s recent history. For proof, just check the blistering pace of Parastrophics opening salvo, where Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma jump from one form of dance music. They aren’t content just to imitate, instead viewing each trend through an experimental prism of glitchy, off-kilter lens.
Listening to the opening chunk of the album, you get the feeling that Werner and Toma have been spending the last six years carefully cataloguing trends so they put their own spin on them. So you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you stuffed dubstep, European house and glitch-pop in a blender and that sounds like fun, then this is definitely for you. Give Mouse on Mars their due: their songs certainly aren’t lacking in things. The sheer variety of sounds throughout Parastrophics keeps things interesting. Playful bleeps and boops, give way to shimmering dissonant white noise. Jagged vocal samples of usual nonsense phrases heard in techno songs backed by Reggaeton style warped bass patches. And this is just the first 10 minutes. It takes a lot of guts to open your first record in six years with this kind of blaze of ecstatic experimentation. But it’s not too long before this barrage of distorted clicks and wobbles begins to seem like an endurance test.
Luckily, Parastrophics finds its legs at about the 11-minute mark. A chunky Disco bassline kicks in and gives some form to the swirling electronic noise. It’s the first time on the record the duo seem to allow the music to take a breath, and it’s here that they first seem interested in trying to create a consistent tone. The album’s shining moment comes at about the 26-minute mark. Werner and Toma find the sweet-spot between the glitchy fun of earlier tracks and something approaching a traditional song structure. The track still spurts and stutters wildly, but you get the feeling that the duo is paying more attention to space and atmosphere. It’s reminiscent of classic Mouse on Mars— the kind of music that no doubt inspired the likes of Four Tet and Flying Lotus, whose freewheeling, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-and-then-also-the-kitchen-sink styles still make for compelling dance floor jams.
At their very best, Mouse on Mars treat music like a playground. There’s an unchecked glee to it all. As they bring to life whirring crunching machinery, or set a pulsing bass against jittering Super Mario hops. You get the feeling that the entire album was created in one ecstatic burst of energy. The album ends by looping back around to the same manic London-club inspired fare as the album’s opening. You’re enjoyment of it depends on how much you go for that kind of thing. Otherwise, Parastrophics is a good record sandwiched between half-hearted stabs at Dubstep populism.
I absorbed the album in one 45-minute long Soundcloud file. Taken in one big chunk like that, Parastrophics seems less like an album, and more like a mixtape that an extremely ADHD raver might put together to teach his ignorant younger brother about versatility of techno music. If one thing stays consistent throughout, it’s the album’s amphetiminic pace. Parastrophics stays deep in the red throughout its entire runtime. Taken in all at once, it’s like a collage of variegated clubs, each with their respective niches of dance music, all on the verge of that ganked-up “ah yeah” moment when, seemingly all at once, the MDMA kicks in, confetti rains from the ceiling and the song reaches its explosive crescendo. It suffers from the problem that comes from trying to sustain that moment of pure ecstasy: it’s incredibly fun, but after awhile it becomes exhausting.