Remaining an extant artist on the tempestuous waters of the electronic music scene is an admirable feat. Over ten albums, German electronic atomizers Jan St. Wener and Andi Toma (aka Mouse on Mars) have managed to do just that. They've also stayed relevant, whether through constant transmutation, general unpredictability, or through their innate knack for testing their audience's partience and devotion without completely leaving them in the dust.
Essentially, the pair aren't concerned with leaving fans who glommed onto their heady IDM days during the mid-to-late '90s, which effectively ended with 1999's Glam. That unreleased soundtrack for an Australian B-movie starring Tony "Who's the Boss?" Danza saw Mouse on Mars turn into true sonic tinkerers. Zany tweaks of hip-hop, dance, IDM, analog synth-pop, techno, disco, ambient, classical, hip-hop, house, krautrock, and outré cross-frequency modulations butress and propel all of their releases, including their tenth release and debut for Monkeytown, Parastrophics.
Unlike 2006's merely adequate Varcharz, this new release captures a raw, live energy. They thread their contrasting sounds through dance music's underground, but craft a release that leans towards a more conventional, dancefloor-ready sound. Well, at least conventional by Mouse on Mars standards.
Parastrophics moves in the same frenetic manner that fans are accostumed to when listening to a Mouse on Mars release. It's as though each track is connected by live wires that are frayed and each glitch and beat drop sends pinwheeling sprays of electricity into the ether. You can hear that visual approximation on opener "The Beach Stop." Its short and staccato rhythms build a magnificent amount of tension and phasing keyboards lull the mind. This manic, push-pull aesthetic can easily backfire and end up souding like the musical equivalent of dicking around on a long weekend, but MoM's use of a female vocal sample grounds the pop-minded piece. Whereas that female vocal is stately and calming, the impious hip-hop synth explosion, "Chordblocker, Cinnamon Toasted Crunch" finds a man spouting puerile nonsense that sounds an awful lot like," cock-blocker/ Facebook's a cock-blocker."
This bewildering vacillation between zany cartoonisms and calculated experimentation both characterizes and holds back Parastrophics from the greatness of previous genre experiments on Idiology (2001), Niun Niggung (2000), or Radical Connector (2004). One minute you could be listening to a tranquil Hawaiian guitar and the next you could be blasted with an inordinate amount of feedback and fuzz. Mouse on Mars' unpredictable is both infectious and taxing.
Varcharz's self-indulgent clashes of noise remain here, although single "Polaroyced" benefit in the roiling environment. Werner and Toma sort of themselves relevant to a community of electronic listeners currently enarmored with the hard knocks of dubstep and glitch. It's also just a solid piece of music. "They Know Your Name" is a four-to-the-floor electro jam ready to be inserted into any DJ set and "Syncropticians" is more downbeat and hazy piece of IDM, reminiscent of Boards of Canada or Tycho.
Any discussion of Mouse on Mars would be remiss without a mention of the duo's two hallmarks: ass-rattling bass and jarring drops of percussion. "Metrotopy" is a good focal point. Its Punjabi synth is a bit much to take, but the beat is danceable and not exactly jarring. The only jarring aspect is when the song morphs like a Transformer into an ambient synth outro with lots of babbling vocals in the mix. It's a fun trick the first time through the album. It just doesn't make for a fun repeat listen.
Parastrophics is a capable release that can soundtrack a Bacchanalian night in the city. Just don't expect anything too deep to clutch onto once you take this home and put on your headphones. Mouse on Mars are still a highly experimental unit, but they're not quite as invincible as they once seemed.