I have been a fan of Deadmau5 for a long time. His hilarious stage presence combined with an awesome visualization work was and still is a big refreshment to the typical stage presence sported by most DJs.
And look, I hate to put my favourite artist down, but for me, his newest album doesn't cut it. Long story short, deep within the sparkles and magical polishes of his production wizardry, lies the same beat he has been making for years. And add on top of that, the fact that these tracks don't actually "fit" together tot be considered a proper album. I'll get to these issues later.
The Sound Now before we go into the negatives, let me emphasis this. His production skill is as impressive as ever.
Call me ignorant but in my opinion the music making process can often be put in two categories; Some producers let the sound they pick guide them in the process. They say, let the music do the talking for you. Some others take a different approach. They bend and shape the sound to their will, and everything will have to be as close as possible to how they want it to be, no room for compromise.
And the latter is where Joel's production style fall into. Have you listened to the album? Every element is well designed, well placed and just full of gloss. I can almost imagine him staying for days in the studio perfecting each and every sound until perfection.
Does this give the album the life it needs in order to shine though?
Dropping the bomb (or, The Album)
The first thing I notice about the album is all the songs are in club mix. Yes, most tracks span over the 7 minute mark all in intro-chorus-breakdown-chorus-outro style that is PERFECT for club settings but unfortunately, not much for anything other than. Problem is, after you've finished a 7 mins track you're in for another. And another. And another. Plus his arrangement formula is pretty predictable - most tracks follow the same pattern and on on top of that after the breakdown often it's just the same thing being replayed. Take The Veldt as an example, where the first and second chorus is rather identical.
How can the album takes pace when at the end you have a minute outro, then another minute for intro of the next song? These unecessary two minutes in-between most songs really kills the pace of the whole album. It would've added a lot more to the continuity had he chosen to rework the arrangements - an album version of every track that he included. Rework those intros so that they get you straight to the meat. Cut the crap. Yes, I believe that alone would have cured most of the problems. It woud've made it less boring by some substantial amount. And then, it would've started to look like a proper studio album, rather than what I would call a compilation of singles.
In fact this is also where his live shows fell short - because coated in his immersive light show lies the rather dull and uninspiring set that resulted from most song being let to play for too long and mixed in a rather dull intro-to-outro style.
Most of the songs have been released as singles, so we'll just skim through them. Fn Pig is an OK track but there's just soo many electro track that sounds alike, as is the case with Channel 42. Professional Grievers sounds like his usual electro bangers, alike to his other stuff with Meelefresh or SOFI but I just happen to dislike the vocal of this particular singer from MCR. Too commercial for me.
On the other side, tracks such as Sleepless and especially Telemiscommunication (ft. Imogen Heap) are some pretty legit downtempos that I'd consider listening. There Might Be Coffee and October are also decent progressive tracks that I'd happily give 7 or 7.5 out of 10. The Ray Bradbury-inspired tune The Veldt is the spotlight of the album and deserves to be. When you look at the process, it's just amazing how he could come up with an original piece together with his fan. It takes alot of faith and a certain degree of open-mindedness to take the step that Joel did when he created this sublime piece of work.
Now you see, at least half of these tracks are quite decent as singles. Problem is as I said above, no rework were done in order to fit them in an album context.
Dear god. Why does he have to name every song using some nonsensical, randomly generated word. Say he made a beautiful progressive with some moody chords, nice. Then, god, he named it, Where's My Cigs. Or Pretty Nice Song. Or something along those lines. My Cat .Track no. 7 There Might Be Coffee is a beautiful melody-driven progressive track. But the name is a bit misleading. Thank god The Veldt is named The Veldt and not Need To Call Plumber ASAP. True that beautiful song will always be a beautiful song, but I think it detracts from the overall experience a little bit.
While production value shines around every corner, it's clear that the album lacks that "edge" that made us fell in love with Deadmau5 the first time. His works used to sound modern. Cutting edge. Unfortunately in this album, I can only spot a few glimpses.
He is no doubt one of the most technically gifted when it comes to production skills. But, in my opinion, it would have added a whole new level of depth had he let other talented artist co-produce some of the tracks, to introduce the much needed variety of styles and dimension to the rather bland album.
I think, the track This Is The Hook which was from when he collab'ed with Steve Duda (very old! from, like, 5 years ago?) is still at the top of my electro track list. It was one of the most original track back when it was just out, really. It's very cool and funny too. The track is 6 minutes but it's far from boring. It keeps your feet moving and I will never ever have any problem having tracks of such quality on an album.
What It Boils Down To
+ As usual, very well produced.
+ Does include some good tracks
- Arrangement lacking
- Does not "glue" well as an album
To give credits where it's due, Joel did make some of the best electro and progressive out there (I Remember, The Reward Is Cheese etc) and even I know that it's very hard to be on 100% at all times, especially given his non-stop tour dates. When you think about it, it's pretty amazing he can output tracks on a frequent basis given his super busy schedule.
Finally, I choose to close this with a paragraph meant for just everyone who makes music. I think, it's very important for an artist to keep on reinventing him/herself under different projects. The thing is there's only so much electro, progressive, nu-disco, etc you can make before you start to hit the wall, no? Though it might require the said artist to rebuild the fan-base to some extent, starting over under a different moniker gives the luxury of sonic explorations and experiments not possible when he/she is tied to the old, already established name. For me, it's always better to start over with new inspirations and fresh materials rather than holding on to the established names if it means releasing one mediocre songs after another.
Or maybe I'm just being an idealist.
(credit: many many thanks for the help on this one, Justin & Dave!)