A little more than halfway through the second disc of 21 Again, a 2xCD collection of new collaborative tracks and guest-artist birthday greetings celebrating Mouse on Mars’ 21 years together, Prefuse 73‘s Scott Herren can be heard reflecting on how he got into the pathfinding German electronic group and its peers. “All the like, scholastic, kind of academic ’90s things that were happening there, I was really into,” Herren says, noting he had a hip-hop day job in Atlanta at the time. “You guys weren’t, like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna do electronic music,’ like boom, boom—no four-four shit. You guys always did something melodic.”
Herren’s remarks may strike a note of familiar nostalgia for longtime Mouse on Mars fans, and for anyone somehow stumbling on this loose, playful, slightly overstuffed record unaware it will be the first real clue as to what all this is about. Since the duo of Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma formed Mouse on Mars in 1993, they’ve blurred the edges of techno, electro-acoustic music, and pop tunefulness over the course of about a dozen albums, most recently 2012’s virtuosically maximalist Parastrophics. They’ve also long indulged a collaborative streak; just recently, Toma produced Africa Express’s star-studded tribute to Terry Riley’s “In C”. On 21 Again, they bring together slightly more than 21 collaborations between Mouse on Mars and other artists, plus several recorded messages such as the one from Herren.
The results, spanning 32 tracks and nearly two hours, are best approached as a huge party full of Mouse on Mars’ old friends. It can be overwhelming, with so many distinguished and varied attendees you’d be hard-pressed to remember your conversations the next morning, but there’s more than enough squishy-synthed whimsy here to make 21 Again a worthwhile listen, particularly for those veteran fans but also for that hypothetical newcomer, who might replicate Herren’s experience of being inspired by Mouse on Mars and their extended musical family. And if the broader culture takes nothing else away from this set, the general concept is ripe for adoption: 21st birthdays are wasted on the 21.
Mouse on Mars have always resisted easy categorization, and that’s evident in the sheer eclecticism on display here. One of 21 Again‘s unique draws is a one-off reunion by fellow German duo Funkstörung, who split in 2008; their lovely, idea-packed Mouse on Mars team-up “Bon Djerry” could easily at one time have been called IDM. But other highlights are pillowy R&B (Junior Boys contribution “Putty Tart”), mesmerizing guitar-and-groove workouts in the locked-in style of what once would’ve been called post-rock (Tortoise track “Shoe Fly”), twitchy disco-funk (“Fertilized” with Cavern of Anti-Matter, a project featuring Stereolab‘s Tim Gane), off-kilter synth-pop (“Lost and Found” with Eric D Clark), or a contemplative, storytelling reverie (“My Toe Is on Fire,” with Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier). Never is it just “oh, we’re gonna do electronic music, boom, boom.”
The jumble works in context, though each listener will probably pick out different tracks to repeat or avoid. The muscular dance-rap of Modeselektor‘s “Purple Fog” ensures this feels like an actual 21st birthday party, but if I were putting together a playlist of similar music I’m not sure it’d be the first choice that came to mind. Still, all this bouncing around, whether to the gauzy beats of Machinedrum collaboration “Juice Clr 9”, the cathartic tribal-drum ululations of “Nkanka” with the Boredoms‘/OOIOO‘s Yoshimi P-We, or the cerebral clicks and whirs of “Double Bum” with Matthew Herbert, helps keep rewarding attention over such an extensive collection. In fact, from a crackling, tightly drawn collaboration with Oval to a clanging, berserk track with Tyondai Braxton, the former Battles frontman, 21 Again could also almost serve as a survey course of the past couple of decades in experimental music.
The birthday messages, though, drive home the sense of 21 Again as a low-stakes, insular bit of fun rather than a sweeping artistic statement. The Fall‘s Mark E. Smith, who joined up with Mouse on Mars in 2007 as Von Südenfed, and his wife Elena Poulou open the record with goofy happy-birthday chatter that sets the mood of warm bonhomie. Non-German speakers will have to settle for being charmed by the laughter during the best wishes from artist Ingrid Wiener and her husband Oswald. A Hawk and a Hacksaw turn their greeting into another chance for musical collaboration, performing Balkan-folk instrumental “Celebration Song” with Hungarian musician Balázs Unger. If DJ Scotch Egg’s chiptune “Mouse on Egg (Happy Birthday)!”, which uses the 19th-century melody that’s customary for such occasions, brings a call from the copyright lawyers, well, 21st birthdays often involve audacious decisions. After 21 years, Mouse on Mars remain joyously unpredictable.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1CdXXy0