Mouse on Mars

Prioritize the people

It’s about time for me to confess something. At some point during the 2000s, I distanced myself a bit from Mouse On Mars, following a decade of euphoric devotion. Not in a way that would suddenly make me say really critical or even bad things about Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner. But the magnetic allure of the curiosity, which they were able to cultivate over the years, from the brilliant first releases on Too Pure (“Vulvaland” and “Iaora Tahiti”) to the records on Thrill Jockey (“Niun Niggung”, “Idiology” and “Radical Connector”), got lost. I suddenly seemed to know what the new material will sound like without having heard it in detail, the urge to listen made way for a benevolent air of pop-administration.

Why am I admitting this? Well, on the one hand I am old enough to own up to my mistakes, but mainly because after years of this strategy (the only exception was Von Südenfed, their collaboration with The Fall’s singer Mark E. Smith) I also have approached “Dimensional People” with this smug arrogance just to shamefully realize that the Mouse On Mars that I thought I knew haven’t been living here for a long time.

It is knocking. And it is throbbing. “Dimensional People I” starts off in a state of unrest, with a tension for which you as a listener are prepared to give everything. In the end, it promises excitement. Unheard sounds. New terrains. And after one and a half minutes once Mike Lewis’ saxophone starts to play, warm and steady, you are feeling comfortable and ready for what’s to come: the high tempo (145 bpm), the nervous drums, the fluttering mood.

The jazz approach of the three-part title and opening track is even more obvious in “Dimensional People II”. The dynamic changes abruptly, it downright applies the breaks and settles down in a loop. Although you were just reminded of Carl Craig’s Innerzone Orchestra, now early Tortoise are brought to the fore as a reference, which is exactly the phase of the Chicago band in which they put the, at that time, dusty genre jazz back on the sound map with a bang, smack in the middle of the just recently fused indie and techno listening habits, thanks to their releases on Thrill Jockey in the spirit of dub and electronica. This is a contextualization, underlaid by the fact that Andi Thoma and Jan St. Werner are back at Thrill Jockey for the release of “Dimensional People”.

As soon as you think you have understood “Dimensional People” new interpretations are arising and the music sounds like an unheard hybrid genre of cool jazz, tinker-electronica, and dance music. Mouse On Mars have never been this ecstatic. And all of a sudden you think you might hear a voice. But it takes some time until you really are sure that Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) is really singing and that it’s not just his spirit wafting through the sound space. It’s only in the third part of the song that this is really tangible (although the linear computation of time has been suspended for some time as you are not able to avoid skipping back every now and then to relisten specific parts in a process of micro-looping since they are so moving).

It’s already obvious that “Dimensional People” is thoroughly changing the image one has of Mouse On Mars. It’s only “Foul Mouth” that shows how much it actually does. The song meanders in its three-minute-long existence from drugged psychedelic ambient through footwork to the “Kaput”-crooner-soul of Destroyer. The liner notes suggest that Zach Condon and Amanda Blank are singing the song, but I would never have guessed that listening to it. “Aviation” adds spank rock to it and during its rap part, it puts together minimal music and cut-up-soul.

All of the references and names are making it clear, and the album’s title emphasizes it: “Dimensional People” is the result of a extremely open dimensional mixing exchange with more than 40 musicians (among others Aaron and Bryce Dessner from The National, Eric D. Clark, Lisa Hannigan, Sam Amidon and Ensemble Musikfabrik) at the Paraverse 4 Studio from Mouse on Mars at the Funkhaus Berlin, as well as at their temporary camp at Michelberger Hotel in Berlin, where the MoMinstruments apps “Elastic Drums” and “uXpad”, which were developed by them, played an essential part.

During the work process, “Dimensional People” was supposed to be called “New Konstruktivist Socialism”. This would have fit the inner essence of the album very well since this movement creation combines contradictions and desires wonderfully with sharp-tongued humor. This music could actually be the soundtrack for a state which acts with a clear conscience and full of ambitions in a socialist spirit and proclaims a New Deal that will reduce the economic divides in our societies and will offer securities and growth to everyone.

Instead, Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner have decided to prioritize the people and to proclaim the (once more three-part) “Parliament of Aliens”. A version of Noah’s Ark for musicians that internalizes nature romanticism, technology optimism, consciousness-expanding freedom and collective dreams. It is the belief in a revolution from within, in our capacity to give up on our own ego sensitivities and to dissolve into a collective state, even though we might not totally understand what is going on. Or as Swamp Dogg, who grew on LSD experiments and Zappa political sarcasm, puts it in “Résumé”: “In my résumé what will I say if its time for the write?“. Some more time to think about it might pass until Mouse On Mars will write theirs. From now on, I will not be as ignorant anymore to think that I have already heard, seen and smoked everything from Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner. Or to say it with Chris Rea, I was a fool to think it was already over.

Mouse-2„Dimensional People“ by Mouse on Mars is out on  Thrill Jockey Records.
A German version of this article was published in the print and digital edition of freitag – thanks to Christine Käppeler, who commissioned the piece. 
Translation by Denise Oemcke. 


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