The path of Deadmau5, AKA 31-year-old electronic music producer Joel Thomas Zimmerman, has undoubtedly been a strange one.
Ever since the release of his 2008 breakthrough, Random Album Title, he's been the defining figure in the North American EDM revolution. Yet behind the rodent head, visually stunning, highly priced headlining shows, genre-defining tunes, and Grammy success, Zimmerman has consciously positioned himself as the movement's malcontent.
Of course, Madonna and her cringeworthy "has anyone seen Molly?" comment at Ultra and whole live electronic music spectacle ("I just roll up with a laptop and... hit a spacebar") are fair game, but his perspective is also refreshingly honest.
There's a sense that the release of his sixth studio record, > album title goes here , today presents a very opportune chance to bring focus back to the music and away from the image of an angry young man ranting into a camera on the internet. More of the mouse hat, less of the baseball cap.
The record starts well enough: Opener "Superliminal" feels like the confident pronouncement of a new darker and harder-edged sound, built around a muscular bass beat and expertly crafted intense rising and descending dynamics. This edgier sound surfaces throughout the record with some variation; "Fn Pig" has flakes of dubstep, "Maths" recalls Daft Punk's eclecticism, and "Closer" combines loops from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to create a slow-burning electro-house jam. But the effortless production is eclipsed by a general feeling of listener disengagement. Some tracks, such as the lumbering "Take Care of Proper Paperwork," seem to just be fragments of Deadmau5's live set and don't sit well within the context of an album.
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The array of collaborations does bring a sense of variety, albeit with mixed results. "Channel 42" with Wolfgang Gartner has two of the biggest U.S. electro-house producers retreading old ground. "The Veldt," with guest vocalist Chris James, is an album highlight with the simmering textured beats and wistfully throaty vocals, providing some welcome sonic range, and "Professional Griefers," with Gerard Way from emo-goths My Chemical Romance, is way better than you'd expect. "Failbait" has rhymes from Cypress Hill and the delicate album closer "Telemiscommunications," featuring Imogen Heap, feel radically different from anything Deadmau5 has done before, yet they also feel like token approaches at hip-hop and dream-pop.
Zimmerman was recently quoted in Rolling Stone as saying dance music is "just 120 bpm with a fucking kick drum on every quarter note," and this could easily be a tangential comment upon his own record. Many of these tracks are merely slight variations upon his well-defined sound. They will presumably present as immense live, which will easily suffice for a large portion of his audience who might not even have much interest in a full studio record.
But there's little that seems remarkable here, and if he were a new artist, we'd be impressed with the overall quality. From aloft in his ivory tower, it seems Deadmau5 might be struggling to maintain his artistic relevance. One wouldn't bet against such a prodigiously talented producer and artist, but it will be interesting to see where he is after a couple more years in the hurly burly fast-moving world of electronic music.
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