It's easy to want to dismiss Deadmau5 as a flash-in-the-pan on the electronic scene. Deadmau5, also known by his human moniker of Joel Zimmerman, has had a fairly quick rise to prominence – with some successful remixes under his belt for the likes of Daft Punk and Hybrid – and his affinity for performing live with an oversized mouse head as a costume just smacks of gimmick. But then you hear the tracks and you just start to get sucked in.
The interesting thing about Deadmau5 is that you're not quite sure where to peg his style. It's certainly not because he's experimental or on the vanguard of anything heretofore unheard. In fact, it's eerily close to quite a few sub-genres, but doesn't quite seem comfortable aligning itself too closely with any of them; and you get the feeling that he likes it that way. At times it's underground minimal techno, other times progressive house, every now and then a splash of trance or IDM, and then perhaps more than a casual nod over to some janky tech-house… But underneath it all is a bedrock of consistency that makes it all seem less like a globetrotting tour of the electronic 'verse and more of a steady, measured hand of egalitarian ambassadorship.
Because of this, his debut release, Random Album Title, plays more like a DJ set and less like an artist album. And I mean that in the best possible sense. With a DJ set (or a good one, at least) the DJ is not limited by his own bag of material, but can pull from anything in order to create a cohesive sound experience. Artist albums, especially mixed ones, can sometimes suffer from just sounding a bit forced. They want to flow, but they're hampered by the limited selection of tracks they happened to complete in the studio. Random Album Title sounds like it was engineered the other way around, or maybe even upside down.
"Sometimes Things Get, Whatever." Indeed. A fitting title to lead the record, as often the less explanation the better. An electronic voice narrates over choppy beats, as the record builds from a gradual swell of simplicity up to something more… well, complicated. The more tribal prog-house pulse of tracks like "Complications" to the neuvo-trance of "Slip" all work together to build the energy up, bit by bit.
The cloud breaks for a bit with "Brazil" as light, bubbling, echoing synths give a greater nod towards melodic force, before shifting back to the prog sounds of "Alone With You." The changes are indicative of the album as a whole. Things move gradually but gracefully from one section to the next. In one sense, that's to be expected of something mixed well, but at the same time it's a testament to Deadmau5's careful restraint in the process. Nothing is done to be showy. In fact, his style is anything but. The tracks seem always to be two steps away from something predictable in the hands of anyone else. But he brings enough flavor and cohesiveness to the whole thing that it becomes something more engaging and organic. The mix lives.
To prove this point, he introduces a living, breathing element to "I Remember", the lone vocal track in the set. It's a light mid-tempo cut that wouldn't be out of place in a Gabriel & Dresden set, and is an excellent break in the journey. This gracefully moves into "Faxing Berlin", which is already his signature track, both in popularity and style. From there things start to wind up a bit by revisiting some prog-house in "Not Exactly", a bit of full-on trance in "Arguru" and then closes out with the very tasteful "And There I Was."
So in spite of some misguided initial concerns, I can't help but get sucked in to this record. It's a compelling and well-crafted debut release that gets better each time I hear it. The blend of styles is well measured and thoughtfully paced, showing diversity when it's appropriate and also restraint when it's needed. I can only hope that he never quite finds a genre he's comfortable with, and as long as that happens, I for one gladly welcome our new rodent overlord.