New album from mouse on mars: on their own planet

Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma are Mouse on Mars. "Dimensional People" is the name of their new work. It is the most convincing for a long time.

Have collaborated with 50 musicians on their new album: Mouse On Mars Photo: Nicolai Toma

In a video clip by the electronic duo Mouse on Mars, a horde of people wander through a swampy area. They are friends and colleagues from long ago in Dusseldorf and Cologne. They wear wigs, second-hand clothes and signs. Although Mouse on Mars act as a twosome per se, they are always also a social system that draws wider circles.

Musicians emerge, slowly work their way into the center of their songs, leave their sound signature there, which is then taken up and further processed by the two protagonists Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma as a central creative principle.

Behind their laptop screens, the two artists, now based in Berlin, lead an entire ensemble whose charm usually lies in the fact that they themselves never quite know where they’re going. Their new, eleventh album, "Dimensional People," with which Mouse on Mars conclude their first quarter-century on their own planet, is again an ensemble effort, even if it begins with a pure machine sound.

A guest of Bon Iver

Computer-controlled robots tap out a beat in high frequency, overlaid by a drowsy saxophone and Afrobeat guitar, until finally U.S. folk singer Justin Vernon’s electronically processed, tremulous voice peeks out from a texture of wind instruments and synthesizer voices.

The Bon Iver bandleader recorded an album of lively electronic miniatures himself in 2016. Last year, he invited Mouse on Mars to Wisconsin for a few days, where he runs a studio in the small town of Eau Claire.

Mouse on Mars: "Dimensional People" (Thrilljockey/Rough Trade)

live: 8/24, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg

You have to imagine this lab situation like a folk commune. Sometimes a banjo player comes by, then a couple of fiddlers, finally Vernon himself takes to the microphone. It is one of many stations that Mouse on Mars visited for this album.

A total of around 50 musicians have left their mark on "Dimensional People" and – as paradoxical as it may sound – ensured that this album has become the most coherent Mouse on Mars work in a long time.

Meeting of two lone warriors

For Mouse on Mars create a space for their guest musicians in which they do not have to be identical with themselves. The culture-industrial logic of features, after all, is to buy someone in for a collaboration, who then reproduces your trademark sound.

It’s a meeting of two lone wolves who often don’t even share the same physical space, but send files back and forth. On "Dimensional People," Mouse on Mars dissolves this logic several times.

On the track "Foul Mouth," for example, the voice of Beirut singer Zach Condon becomes the raw material for a rhythm loop that rolls over itself to finally echo out into eternal nothingness, over which rapper Amanda Blank can finally deliver a few supercooled, minimalist rhymes. The guitar of the almost forgotten U.S. soul/blues musician Swamp Dogg meanders through "Sydney in a Cup" , where it meets processed acappella voices. And drones from Cologne-based new music ensemble Musikfabrik dot the album.

Mouse on Mars processed all of this using their own iOS apps and finally rearranged it on the computer. In this way, they exaggerate the idiosyncrasies of their fellow musicians into a sample collage in which moments of a pop song often flash up without feeling the need to find themselves in the song form. For "Dimensional People" is also an album that can’t make up its mind.

Does it celebrate the folk sound of the 21st century, a celebration of playing together? Or is it a constructivist concept album, an attempt to bring disparate sounds together in the studio? Probably it’s both, and that’s okay. There’s already too much unambiguous music anyway.

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