Back in the summer of 1994, Mouse on Mars joined what was then the freshest indie-rock/electronic-pop crossover hub of the day by releasing its debut LP, Vulvaland, via London's Too Pure. At the time, the label was home to PJ Harvey, Stereolab, Moonshake, Seefeel, and a number of other acts working the margins and intersections of shoegaze, German space rock, and dance.
The Dusseldorf duo of Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma brought new perspectives to a burgeoning scene, which they helped shape into what became known, for better or worse, as IDM. Albums like Instrumentals (1997) and Glam (1998), released on the then-newly launched Cologne-based Sonig imprint, remain oddly beautiful and worthy of rediscovery, as both records combine ambient and modern classical soundscapes with judicious elements of glitch and noise. Competing for the same headspace as Autechre's Chiastic Slide and Aphex Twin's Come to Daddy, these records from Mouse on Mars matched up awfully well against the heavyweights.
However, following the cheeky Niun Niggung (1999) and the more serious Ideology (2001)—completing seven LPs and about a dozen EPs over seven years—came a long period of largely obscure, unremarkable releases.
It wasn't until Modeselektor's Berlin-based Monkeytown label picked up the pieces in 2012 that Mouse on Mars properly got back on the radar. And even with the profile boost, recent efforts like WOW and Parastrophics have had minimal impact on an increasingly cluttered and competitive electronic music scene.
Perhaps that's why Spezmodia, the duo's newest EP, seems an attempt to freshen up influences and add a few more that have apparently been kept in reserve all these years. In fact, longtime MOM fans might not recognize the group they thought they knew in these five bangin' tracks.
"Bakerman is Breaking Bad" comes soaked in acid squelches, heart-pounding drum programing and a simple, fat bassline, all of which clock in around 150 bpm. The rave-inspired "Cream Theme" picks up where that leaves off, highlighted by a synth-led chord progression and saturated harmonies that continue, almost seamlessly, into the superior title track, which hints (ever so slightly) at a soul/jazz/funk/early-Detroit inspiration.
"Migmy" is a variation on classic drum & bass themes, with warped vocal samples that bend and break as they go for a rubbery ride atop a dark, low-end rumble. The heatseeking "I See Dizzy" closes the set with a desire to get all the dancers back on the floor, or better yet, get them all rushing in the direction of the speakers for maximum headbanging effect.
Does Spezmodia sound like the chillout-friendly Mouse on Mars from the 1990s? No, no it's doesn't. But is it good? Why, yes, in a wild, sweaty, apeshit sort of way. It's not groundbreaking, historically significant sonic art, but it's not a bad listen, either.