September 25, 2012

Deadmau5 Album Review Title Goes Here

deadmau5Ok… So I am having a hard time here. The new Deadmau5 record came out today.  It bears the name “>album title goes here<”, and right down to the lower case letters, there is precious little surprise with this name. Honestly, I feel like there is precious little surprise to anything about it… or, I felt that way til I got towards the end… but we’ll get there.

The truth is, Joel Zimmerman has reached a point where he could be forgiven if he came out in the press and said “I piss excellence.” Not because he is infallible, but because the love of his music, whether assisted by a freakishly wise participation in all things internetz, or a crazy light show assisted cartoonish mouse mask, remains impressive in its reach. He’s done a pretty good job of building his name and communicating with his fan base; which includes methods ranging from live streaming in the studio, building a devoted following for his cat Meowingtons and burning down his own Minecraft palaces with tons of fans inside. In a year where he made headlines calling out DJs for being “glorified button pushers” while also dominating populist sects of EDM with “The Veldt” and “Professional Griefers,” the ego wouldn’t be unwarranted.

On the other hand, the cost of all that communication and interaction is that a lot of what should be the standout moments on his new record are now kind of old news. The Veldt has already seen an EP, songs like “There Will Be Coffee” saw their Soundcloud demos aired by folks like NME, and the My Chemical Romance compilation sounds like the Mau5 of a year ago climbing back down Sofi’s Ladder. In fact, with a few exceptions, I really felt like this record amounted to a snapshot of a man tentatively pulling away from his own popularity in the “Dubstep Age” and looking back through his own catalog for inspiration in melody and atmospherics. Everything leading up to “There Will Be Coffee” (excluding the Veldt) sounds like outtakes from “For Lack of a Better Name” and “4 x 4 = 12.”  The soundlab experiment that follows, “Take Care of the Proper Paperwork” is almost like walking through Joel’s closet and taking inventory with him. It is as though you can hear him saying “Meowingtons, I miss doing my old thing. These gritty noises are great, but my melodic builds and progressive melodies were more fun for me. I am getting kind of bored of the whole dub-stab thing… and hey, you wanna be on the cover for the new record?” (Clearly, Meowingtons purred in response to this last part.)

Maybe that’s why by “Closer,” we find ourselves in territory familiar to anyone who knew and loved “Random Album Title.” Not only does “Closer” return to a Deadmau5 sound I always associate with the first record, it also pulls its familiar intro riff from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” From here, the song “October,” delivered in the same vein, could definitely carry one through a good solid video gaming binge. Suddenly, the tempo takes a solid drop and what might be the new, contemplative Mau5 arrives with big drums at a slow pace. Eventually a large melancholy bombast gives way to a series of bleeps, whirrs and tones while the old Speak and Spell voice from “Sometimes Things get Whatever” returns to read some kind of poem including the line “the only thing I want, is the last thing I need.”

To say the least, this didn’t really set me up to be prepared for the Cypress Hill collaboration that, well, sounds like Deadmau5 recording a Cypress Hill backing track… Honestly, it doesn’t suck or anything, I just don’t feel like detailing all my thoughts about why I don’t think this belongs in the sequence of a proper “record” without more supportive context. Let’s just move on to the only surprise on the record.

That surprise is a lovely one though. Imogen Heap stops by for a moment that would have been a fine place to stop the record. I believe it is and the remainder are “iTunes extras,” but my experience was having some rehash jump in behind it. However, let’s just say this is the end. “Telemiscommunications” is the name of the track. Were it not for the “Faxing Berlin” piano tone, one could be forgiven for simply hearing it and thinking it an Imogen Heap track. Complete with her trademark backing vocal sound, the track has that melancholy beauty that she is so known for, and will likely be burning up the closing sad part of whatever show has girls in their late teens and early twenties gathering weekly for wine and pedicures. That last part may sound like a slight- but short of wearing a mask and jacking up the electric bill of every club you hit, this is a good, smart and fine way to make money in this day and age. Right down to the closing vocal of “Did I tell You I loved You Today,” this song has “LICENSE ME” written all over it. That said, I loved it, and it woke me from a kind of brooding stupor I had been worn into over the course of a dedicated listen to the record.

However, this record is no “album.” The sequence is jarring, disjointed, and gives an impression of a man in transition. All artists go through such things, but the classy move when releasing such a catharsis is to call it what it is. In this case, I think the appended title should include “singles from this year, out takes and what would once have been called B sides.” I played around with it in iTunes, trying to re-sequence the presentation here, and this thing will never, ever be an “album” in the most proper sense of the word. I’m not saying it sucks, I am just calling it out for what it lacks: cohesion. I think this likely precedes a return to form and a shift in style, as I have been predicting all year for Deadmau5, but as a record it seems a bit slapdash. Deadmau5 fans and devotees, will surely be pleased, but detractors will feed on this like I do on the tears of of other Warcraft players…

Personally, I’d like to see Joel move forward, commit to an album title that means something to him. He seems like he is on the edge of displaying some kind of genuine emotion, but fears the internet rage he thrives on turning against him. He comes from and courts an age where trash talking and anonymous commenting are regular forms of criticism, and it almost seems like his sensibility is less and less an ironic smirk at this age, and more of a fear of being rejected with his heart on his sleeve. I think, when an artist has such obvious technical prowess and a gift for catchy melody… well… I think it’s time to just get on with it. Fly the freak flag, count your money and embrace the next part of your career where you just might get rejected.

Then again, what does he need? He’s the Minecraft player who has everything. I’m sure he isn’t troubled by any pressure to explore the depths of his artistic misery sat atop his pile of money. All the kids getting ready to fist pump straight through his next set probably aren’t too troubled with it either. As for me, this won’t likely be my favorite. I’ll let you know if it becomes a sleeper hit in my collection…


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