The Friends Experiment: Marke E. Smith?s collaboration with Mouse on Mars pays catchy dividends.

It’s hard to say who the years have been crueler to: IDM or Mark E. Smith. Glitchy beats may be deader than Crystal Pepsi, but the Fall frontman’s steez was starting to get tired even when the Average White Band was considered intelligent dance music. Somewhat inexplicably, though, Mark E. Smith plus IDM is­ an equation for contemporary relevance. As frontman of Von Südenfed, a collaboration with German IDM duo Mouse on Mars (Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma), ­he plugs himself into dance music. But instead of sounding like an opportunistic one-off, Tromatic Reflexxions makes more sense than any Fall record of recent vintage—even if Smith still makes no sense at all. Like a punk rock Darth Vader, Smith is enhanced and empowered by electronics. On the opening track, “Fledermaus Can’t Get Enough,” St. Werner and Toma wed Smith’s Mancunian warble to a thumping electroclash beat. The singer’s trademark incomprehensibility is augmented via digital skips and stutters that get heavier as he repeats the simple phrase “Can’t get enough,” and it’s extraordinarily catchy—if you can get past the sheer weirdness of hearing Smith singing a club-banger. But Tromatic Reflexxions is more than just a digitized Hex Enduction Hour. Mouse on Mars has survived where its glitch-centric peers perished because records like Idiology injected pop hooks and funkier rhythms into the IDM formula. The duo bring that sensibility to Von Südenfed; on “The Rhinohead,” the two force Smith to deliver what might be the first-ever singalong chorus of his career. (Though, of course, you can’t figure out the words and actually sing along.) However, the biggest surprise that Smith delivers is that he’s capable of surprising you—something he hasn’t done with the Fall in at least 15 years. On the closing song, “Dearest Friends,” a heavily processed Smith mock-croons over tropicalia guitars and a light Latin rhythm. “To my dearest friends who are long gone,” he sings, in what’s a humorous but surprisingly tender moment. They are long gone, and Smith is an old man now. But it’s nice to know that he can still find a new way to spin his old tricks.

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