If German electronic producers Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma were to switch professions and tackle architecture, maybe they could be the new Frank Gehry.
"Music can be seen like interior design," says Toma, one half of the duo known as Mouse on Mars. "You are the architect of a space where people can find freedom no matter how densely decorated."
As Gehry does with folded curves of titanium on his famous Seattle, L.A., and Bilboa architectural landmarks, Mouse on Mars dovetails stocky, shifting nebulae of sonic shavings to create digital overlays with the complexity and seemingly organic malleability of fish scales. The Rhine/Ruhr bred, Köln/Düsseldorf-based duo, which released its first full-length, Vulvaland, in 1994, has become associated with corrugated music perforated by swarms of rhythms ranging from brittle and searing, like a light bulb's filament, to gelatinous and conductive, like silicon grease. Snippets of iridescent aural artifacts are conglomerated and manipulated like iron filings made to wobble, coalesce, and coagulate by the uneven flickering of a neighboring magnetic field.
The use of sprawling shards, albeit more condensed, continues with Mouse on Mars's eighth full-length, Radical Connector, the follow-up to 2001's critically acclaimed Idiology. "A öradical connector' maybe is not existing," says Toma via spotty cellphone connection from somewhere around Omaha. "But the idea is to see what connections can still be made, in this case with the consciousness.
"You know how you have the free radicals in your body, and they make connections that are not supposed to be. And the world is full of these things developing for reasons we don't understand -- but for us in a creative way. And a öradical connector' is someone who tries to play with these things, not just react and reply with what is working anyway." In other words, Mouse on Mars adds disparate elements to digitally skewed sonic detritus to create compelling, multi-faceted melodies and harmonies distinctive from the muddled frenzy typical of the current IDM scene's glitch randomizers.
The sound of cars churning by in the background leaves Toma admittedly slightly perturbed, and at times rattling on mild agitation. In a way the setting is appropriate. The cars are free radicals themselves, and their gusty metallic hiss is similar to the unease with which Mouse on Mars attempts to imbue their music.
"There have to be moments in songs where things happen [that] people don't expect," Toma continues. "If you go somewhere everything is predefined ... there's nothing triggering something in your brain. [But] you laugh nervously when things don't happen in a real order, when you have something to react against -- you are stimulated positively and experience a small explosion as your perception expands. You are transported by new ideas."
What might be blowing longtime MoM fans' minds is how Radical Connector, while still brimming with micro-edited detail, is an intentional reinterpretation of less chaotic "pop." Burbling vocal contortions make tracks of swagger-flecked mutant disco ("Wipe That Sound," featuring longtime vocalist/percussionist MoM collaborator Dodo Nkish, and soon to be released as a twelve-inch single with additional vocals from the Fall's Mark E. Smith) and hiccup hip-hop ("The End," and "All the Old Powers"). "Spaceship" flirts with serrated UK garage of the Basement Jaxx variety. "Send Me Shivers," featuring Sonig collaborator Niobe, chirps along at a gently percolating pace akin to late Nineties MoM material with Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier.
Yet even at its most left-of-center, Radical Connector can't be said to be bristling. St. Werner and Toma have presented prismatic poise -- it is as if they have set about to fill a thematic window display, sewing together asymmetrical yet recognizable patterns with atypically colored threads for their song mannequins. The sound -- part minimal dub and part percussive seizures, all condensed and regurgitated -- is familiar, if not necessarily the details. However, no matter how well composed the tracks are, no matter what elements they recall, the accumulated sounds never feel buffed. While MoM does not traffic in the deliberate obscurity many producers intentionally instill in their DSP-jumbled tracks, opting instead to promote the fringe as accessible and charming, the duo's methods still smudge all lines of easily delineated genre conventions.
"We don't want to be called a jungle band, a two-step band," says Toma. "We'd rather be called a 'rock band,' because rock is everywhere, it is such an old idea it is in many things. But to be glitch, grindcore, digital something, it is not so interesting to us. If you want to do something 'pure' like that, you have to have specific equipment, use elements [combined in] specific ways. Why do something with an established code?"
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.