Saturday, February 14, 2015

Deadmau5 - Random Album Title (Original TC Review)

Ultra Records: 2008

(2015 Update:
Ol' Joel's had himself a career since I wrote this, hasn't he? Mega-selling concerts, tabloid relationships, Grammy nominations, high rankings in popularity polls, superstar collaborations, and more dosh than a dead dinosaur (?). You know what hasn't changed though? (wait for it...) That. Darn. Clap! Ahahah! Hahaha! Hehhaahaha- Oh, he recently released some ambient music too. Well, that's pie on my ass.

Seriously though, every time I popped into his discography for a quick listen, I couldn't help but chuckle at how little Deadmau5' standard house-template ever changed. As easy it is to deride him for a lack of song-craft ability though, I suspect he's fully aware there's little point in showing some growth, the audience he's cultivated more interested in dazzling light shows and caustic social media diatribes than any actual music. It's taking Fatboy Slim's tongue-in-cheek "why try harder?" manifesto to its logical conclusion. Great for short term profitibility, sure, but small surprise Deadmau5', erm, 'true'-fans keep pointing to this album as his best. The hint of potential resonates here.)



IN BRIEF: A clap every second beat, guaranteed.

I admit it: I like his gimmick. Yes, you read that right –I like deadmau5’ costume gimmick. There’s just something about seeing a guy on stage with a giant mouse head that screams “rave!” How could it not be a trip to watch that live? Ever since DJs became the official ‘face’ of EDM, such odd examples of costumed performance sadly fell by the wayside, abandoning its counter-culture ideology in favor of mainstream acceptance. So, good on Joel Zimmerman for keeping that aspect of the live show going. To those who believe performing with a giant mouse head is silly, I say this –‘tis no less silly than Altern 8 performing with faux-bio-wear and masks, or Liam Howlett having a couple dancers prance around the stage, or Aphex Twin having a couple giant teddy bears prance around the stage, or Rabbit In The Moon doing… um, whatever it is they do on stage. Live PA needs more of this, not less.

He wouldn’t have gotten so widely popular with just a clever gimmick, though; no, deadmau5’ rapid success has a large part to do with the most valuable currency of the modern era: internet controversy. He is one of the very few producers who will actually argue against those who consistently slander his short career, getting involved with heated flame wars on prominent social media. Mind, despite the rarity, this isn’t something new, as Frankie Bones has done much the same for years now. Unfortunately, Joel lacks Bones’ scene savvy and Brooklyn wit, and the Toronto native’s tactless approach to public relations has left him much hated but frequently talked about. In this regard, deadmau5 is merely EDM's version of Soulja Boy.

Oh, and apparently he’s made a few popular tunes too, such that he’s become Beatport’s poster-boy. In the process, the music website handed out a bunch of awards to him, even if that’s like Ikea giving out awards for the furniture they sell. It’s been good for promotions, though, and the time came for Mr. Zimmerman to deliver a major label debut (well, relatively speaking; Ministry Of Sound/Ultra is major in terms of dance music).

And what’s on this randomly titled album? Claps. And claps. And claps. And claps. And claps. And claps. And claps. And claps. And claps. And… for fuck’s sakes, Joel, STOP WITH THE FUCKING CLAPS! On nearly every second beat, there’s a fucking clap (or snare/snap variation). Every fucking time. No variation at all. It quickly lodges inside your head and never lets up; even when it's somewhat tucked under the synths as a subtle snap, you can't escape it. And by being coupled with such plodding prog rhythms, deadmau5 proves himself to be amongst the whitest dance producers you’ll ever encounter. By three tracks in, it’s become comical; four tracks in, bad comedy; for the rest of the album, infuriatingly distracting.

So what, you counter, second-beat snares are common in music; it can be found in all kinds of genres. And you are right, as it provides rhythmic jump to any beat; however, its function is typically used as a supplement to the rhythm, whereas deadmau5 makes it his main feature. It’s as though he first copy and pastes the clap for several bars, then constructs the rest of his track around it; his claps are so prominent because they run the whole show.

Its omnipresence isn’t helped by the fact Joel’s such a fine technical producer. If he gets anything right, it’s his sense of audio dynamics – everything is wonderfully spaced and full-sounding without falling into over-compression traps plaguing many modern productions. Unfortunately, it also highlights the compounding problems with this album, in that despite having such crystal clear production, his music lacks creativity and soul; it all blends together into one long trudge through generic tech-prog, with the only thing ever sticking to mind being that damned clap.

Even after a dozen listens through, there are only bits and pieces of other stuff I can recall: some tech sections that blandly drone; a couple bouncy basslines; ominous atmospherics here and there; a dull breathy female vocal somewhere in the middle (crossover attempt!); a robotic voice early-on saying “sometimes things get complicated,” surely an ironic foreshadow regarding his beats; repeated uses of the delayed synth 8th notes that he made so popular; some melancholic noodly piano bits; noisy effects-laden builds; blessedly, none of his hideous ‘electro’ r-r-rr-rrrRIPP fart stuff. Arguru in particular stands out, as it features the least amount of clap in its beats (the track’s drop after the build is pretty ace too). Ask me to actually hum back any kind hook or melody from this album, though, and all I’ll be able to offer you are steady plodding hand-claps.

Did Joel realized just how ridiculous hearing the same clap all the way through his album sounds? Did he even bother to give it a good listen over? Sure, he’s gone on record as saying he didn’t put much effort into it, merely slapping on his big hits and padding it out with some new stuff for a DJ mix, but by doing so he shoots himself in the foot (probably once every second beat). deadmau5 has long been criticized for being samey-sounding and lacking in any kind of musical intuitiveness, an accusation that honestly doesn’t have much merit when you hear his tracks in isolation or as a part of a DJ set; any of these tracks are fine individually. Lined up all together as they are here, though, and how can you not agree with the naysayers? That clap… it’s like Chinese water torture, but instead of a constant drip… drip… drip… eating away at your head, you have a constant clap… clap… clap… eating away at your brain. It annoys. It grates. It torments. It claps. It claps. It claps. It claps. It claps. It claps. It claps…

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2008. © All rights reserved.


ACE CLAPS:
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