There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Mouse on Mars, so the received wisdom goes, is a thinking person’s electronica outfit—which is to say that its unique brand of glitch is less likely to make you dance than twitch spasmodically. But inside every thinking person there’s apparently a dancing fool—or at least an unthinking fan of pure and simple pop music. Or so suggests the Düsseldorf, Germany, group’s eighth and latest album, Radical Connector, which is reputed to be a veritable pop hit parade. (According to hype-happy Pitchfork Media, “Each song builds an internally consistent songworld…content with its boundaries.”) Don’t believe the hype: Though the album’s first three tracks are indeed great and groovy in a Kraftwerkian kinda way, the six that follow are only so-so. To quote another thinking person’s musician, “This ain’t no disco.” Opener “Mine Is in Yours” is as spunky a slab of shape-shifting syncopation as you’re likely to hear all year—the perfect soundtrack for your next bout of robotripping. “Live by and die by the use of your voice,” deadpans long-time MOM collaborator Dodo Nkishi while knob-twiddlers Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma make their machines go bump, bleep, and boing in the night. “Wipe That Sound,” by contrast, is a club-footed but irresistible pastiche of Peter Gabriel’s monkey-shocking period featuring crypto-stoopid lyrics about kicking the can and bucketfuls of electronic squiggles, and “Spaceship” is sheer intergalactic strangeness. With its slice-and-dice vocals spread atop a cyborg-with-a-short-circuit rhythm and an asteroid shower’s worth of glimmering pings and pongs, the tune is nothing short of Sun Ra gone Eurotrash. Elsewhere, however, a similar approach goes horribly, simplistically wrong. Having already beamed us up to the Arkestra, MOM next takes us to…Paris. The listless “Send Me Shivers” incorporates smooth Franco-femme vocals that boldly go where no Stereolab song hasn’t gone before. Ditto for the disc-closing “Evoke an Object,” all Sadieresque aloofness and wistful keyboard washes. As for “The End,” well, it thuds apocalyptically enough, but, duh, it’s in the middle. And that’s exactly Radical Connector’s problem: A thinking person’s electronica outfit that doesn’t seem at least a little smarter than the rest of us is just plain dumb. —Michael Little