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  Mouse On Mars  
  Thrill Jockey  
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Mouse On Mars are a strange act. On the one hand, this is electronic music, and the musicians are german. The image that statement calls to mind is of some thin pale guys in black turtlenecks and wire-rimmed glasses hanging out around a bunch of keyboards and computers.

And that's somewhat true. Except that they also have a drummer, who sings sometimes. His name is Dodo Nkishi, which sounds kind of Japanese to me. So Mouse On Mars are an electronic act with a drummer/vocalist. That's a little different.

And i think it shows, upholding my theory that "organic" drums are infinitely more interesting than anything a machine can create. Organic beats are crisp and rich and "alive" sounding, whereas i can usually peg the cold beats of a drum machine right off. The drums here are organic, and that's what makes this one of the better electronica albums that i have heard in quite some time.

Rather than programming beats, Mouse On Mars record their drummer and then feed his work through their computers. This makes the music really breathe, which is something that a lot of electronic music doesn't do. (And i suspect that in some cases, the "roboticness" of electronic music is intentional.)

Aside from the organic feel of the music, another thing that i find interesting about this disc is that it was made for vinyl. No really -- it even has clearly demarked sides as reflected in the pattern of the songs. The pattern is start with harsher beat driven song with vocals, then go into a mostly instrumental interlude that still is pretty beat driven, then a vocal piece, then abstract sound collages. The album repeats itself in this cycle.

I find that very odd. Usually an album is one "thing", and with the prevalence of CD's anymore it flows as one organic whole from start to finsih. Placing such an album on two sides of a vinyl disc would disrupt the flow. But in the case of Idiology having the album as one straight-through CD rather than a record you have to flip disrupts the flow. What were Mouse On Mars thinking?

That said, let's examine the songs in the pattern. Each side starts off with an intense song of distrorted vocals and crunchy beats. On side A it is Actionist Respoke, while on side B it is the otherworldly reggae of Doit. Doit sounds like the music the space rastas would listen to in their satellite home in William Gibson's Neuromancer. It's got that head-bopping beat, and horns, and distorted vocals, and is a really good fast fun tune.

These songs fade into something a little less frenetic. Something slightly calmer but still with a really good beat. On side A it is Subsequence, while side B has both First: Break, and To Introduce. These are good songs to listen to when you want something a little energetic, but not too much so.

After the intensity of those songs, Mouse On Mars bring things down with a slower vocal piece. On side A it is Presence, which has a great melody and wonderful vocals. This is one of the real standout tracks on the album. The equivalent on side B is my least favorite track on the album: a less than two minute long purely vocal piece called Unity Concepts. Someone speaking english with a sharp german accent talks for a while about "The One", as if giving a lecture on Liebnizian monadism. Mouse On Mars take this lecture, chop it up, and add subtle echo and processing effects. It's not bad, just dull.

Ah, but after the vocal interludes are done both sides of Idiology get really good. The remaining tracks are abstract sound collages, totally outside the realm of dance music, made up of sampled strings and piano and horns. These are all really good songs, really interesting to listen to. I especially like side A's The Ilkling, with it's luscious string sweeps and happy little melody.

Another real winner is Fantastical Analysis, which sounds like what all of those post-rock bands who play with electronica really want to be doing. Mouse On Mars take a light guitar melody (apparently they have a guitarist in the band as well), add keyboard drones, some sampled beats, a trilling piano, and eventually layer strings and little beeps and bloops on top. The song just builds and builds, and does so really nicely.

On the whole i am really impressed with this album. Mouse On Mars manage to take the cut-and-paste-while-distorting mentality of contemporary electronica and combine it with real songcrafting to create something beautiful. I think that a wide range of people might be able to find something to listen to here: the album should appeal to electronica fans AND post-rock fans (in other words, it straddles the two genres that i enjoy most).

I really can't recommend it enough. If you like either of those two genres, check this out.

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