Even during the genre's mid-'90s heyday, it was clear that Mike Paradinas' vision of IDM had as much interest in the D as the I. His music was frequently cutting edge while still being unabashedly melodic, groove driven, and occasionally tongue in cheek, offering a cheerful shrug and a hearty pat on the shoulder where others doled out a shove or a smack to the head. Albums like 1997's revelatory Lunatic Harness and 1999's underrated Royal Astronomy radiated the sense that the producer's sounds were less built to shake foundations and more purposed to just sound fun. Of course, in Paradinas' case, fun meant post-jungle rhythms that constantly threatened to break apart or bass hits that would have sounded janky coming from a Colecovision. Controlled chaos was Mu-Ziq's specialty.
In the six years since Paradinas dropped Duntisbourne Abbots Soulmate Devastation Technique, a succession of newer names have picked up his mantle, filling in the void that his minor hiatus left and populating his Planet Mu label with their own wave of post-rave energy. Now that Paradinas is back to recording as Mu-Ziq, the possibility of an aging-innovator personality crisis has come into play. And where this spring's XTEP EP was a mild, low-key paring-down of his old tics and tricks into something decidedly calmer, Chewed Corners aims to more ambitiously streamline Paradinas' influences, peers and heirs alike.
What's missing from that blend, however, seems to be Paradinas himself. Coming into Chewed Corners expecting runaway jackhammer snares, charismatically nauseous melodies, or anything more leftfield than the MOR-IDM precedent of XTEP will leave expectations dashed. On albums classic and otherwise, the one thing all Mu-Ziq efforts had in common was that they sounded like Mu-Ziq, no matter how frantic or measured (or, frequently, both) his musical direction was headed at that time. But so many things have been synthesized into Chewed Corners from so many sources and ideas that any sense of direction, reaction, or engagement with the cutting edge is markedly less adventurous than most releases on his own label.
It's a worrying sign that things are off when a track like "Mountain Island Boner" (well, at least he still has a way with a song title) sounds like a direct homage to The Alan Parsons Project's "Sirius." Admittedly, it's the most nakedly derivative moment on the record, but most other cuts still feel like they're originating from somebody else's portfolio. "Taikon" and "Gunnar" pull off some skillful juxtapositions between hovering, slow-moving ambient chords and backgrounded snare rolls, but the results are not much different from what any number of today's bedroom-studio kids are doing more recklessly and iconoclastically with vaguely Memphis-rap-tinged bass music. A couple of throwback tracks—the Orbital-inflected "Houzz 10" and the euphoric tech-house anthem "Weakling Paradinas"—only add to the problem, as they reveal both a deep well of historical inspiration and an apparent lack of interest in transcending it past the point of loosely updated reverence.
That said, if Mu-Ziq isn't completely himself on Chewed Corners, then whoever he is can at least be both crowd-pleasingly versatile and subtly direct at the same time. Those aforementioned throwbacks are straightforward, but they work on a level that reveals just how deeply Paradinas knows the ins and outs of what makes tracks like those so stimulating. And just because the more eccentric tendencies have been pared down, that doesn't necessarily mean they've been eliminated. The seesaw grind of "Christ Dust" and space graveyard cruise "Feeble Minded" are welcome flashes of strangeness, and hearing Paradinas go in on some of bass music's current tropes like the faux-Rustie electro-pop of "Wipe" or the sleek cloud grime of "Twangle Melkas" are uncharacteristic in ways that point towards a continued forward development in his sound. If Mu-Ziq's shaken off what made him so distinct in previous decades, there's still the intrigue of how he's going to re-evolve without post-hiatus expectations looming over his head.