Monday, 7 April 2008

Review of "Eroded" :

Dancing Mice Eroded (Squeak Audio)
There’s something very appealing about this album, from its orange and white faux Penguin artwork, to the curious song titles, blurry, indecipherable band pictures and the curious, wordy lyrics printed on the inner-sleeve. I’d assumed that this was a debut album, having never heard of the Dancing Mice before, but it’s actually the Edinburgh based bands third. It’s a weird, wonderful and sometimes confusing album, quite poppy in places, very odd in others, but almost always charming and enchanting.
It’s hard to find solid comparisons for the Dancing Mice. There’s definitely something of an 80s influence in there, with an array of antique synths on display but Dancing Mice aren’t retro-ironists, borrowing sounds from a much mocked musical era with their tongues poked firmly in their cheeks. Eroded takes in electronic pop, weird folk, psychedelia and post-punk, melding them into a quirky, erudite style with some cool pop hooks.
Opening song, ‘It’s Abnormal’ begins with some primitive buzzsaw guitar and a thumping drum machine before being joined by some sweet keyboards and Ian Deary’s rich, distinctive vocals. In the space of a pop song Dancing Mice throw in heaps of ideas and twists and turns, mixing the everyday and otherworldly in a fresh, enervating manner. ‘Cindy Does It Better’ is curious sounding with its clipped funk bass and creepy, insinuative melody that give the song a sense of ennui, of failing to make progress as Deary sings
Leave behind the songs
Make the freeze
Start another project
Fail to please
On the road to nowhere.
The lyrics and music express the utter desperation and frustration of a band seemingly unable to break out of obscurity, in part, because of their unwillingness to remain static, to please their existing fan base.
‘Tamagotchi Girl’ soars and swoops with a barely contained glee, the quirky but catchy melodies driving a long the songs queasy, seasick feel. ‘Pink Storm’ is a beautiful, delicate song, more subdued than its predecessors as it builds up an eerie, fractured atmosphere with a muted rhythm and lovely saxophone. Deary’s voice and the music are elegant as he describes the loneliness, futility even, of the writer’s life:
From the inside he can see that the writing’s overblown
Capture the thought and the next til the memory is gone
Nothing to do anyway
Just this plenty to say.
The songs instrumental section is simply stunning with its sublime guitar playing giving way, in turn, to a lovely keyboard line.
‘Wounded Woman’ sits quite awkwardly after the elegiac ‘Pink Storm’. It’s incredibly manic, hyperactive even, with the instruments and vocal almost tripping over themselves as Dancing Mice batter through the song. It contains some neat melodies and a mad interplay between the overloaded guitar and synths. ‘Chosen Hills’ slows the pace back down again with its acoustic beginning. It has an electro-folk feel, even featuring a recorder. ‘Chosen Hills’ has a sinister feel while, simultaneously, being an incredibly pretty song full of cool changes and textures. ‘Crusader Castles’ mixes a vague eastern and reggae-ish feel in a beautiful song that ponders questions of identity and reality as Deary sings
The stars spell out his names
He clears his eyes
And wonders what is real.
The lyrical imagery conjures up links between the medieval crusaders and the contemporary war in Iraq with lines like ‘The new crusaders / Uniform in uniformity convene’. It’s an odd, subtle and evocative song.
By way of contrast ‘Madonna’ sounds slightly clumsy and misplaced although it’s lifted by the sweet middle eight. ‘Pictures Of Biggles’ is plain weird, lyrically and musically, as it packs in a dazzling array of ideas into under four minutes. The song displays a strange mix of sounds and images mixed in with catchy melodies and a lovely sense of momentum as it swoops and soars, chops and changes, leaving me confused and exhilarated. The lyrics are both humorous and curious, as exemplified in lines such as
When he took off his locks
On his chocolate box
And found his favourites were gone.
The lyrics on Eroded often have a nursery rhyme feel to them, surreal but with depth as well.
‘Kelticfunfair’ is utterly amazing, from its atmospheric, spacey introduction right through to the dizzying climax. It never flags or falters over a breathtaking and ambitious eight minutes. It’s a gorgeous, haunting song. I especially love the saxophone, the way it sounds so beautiful and lost. Deary’s voice is quite subdued but remains emotionally charged. ‘Kelticfunfair’ has a deserted carnival feel to it as it builds up a sense of tension and foreboding with the different instruments coming and going, all adding to the atmosphere. ‘Golden Girl’ comes over like the theme music to some long forgotten 70s television show, the bass and synth giving it a tinge of jagged funk as the sense of drama and momentum builds up as the song brings Eroded to a rather cool conclusion.
Eroded isn’t perfect. Very occasionally Dancing Mice slightly over-egg the pudding but, in the main, it is a rather wonderful album, something rather special. While it sounds as though Dancing Mice may well be freaky dancing in their own strange world, Eroded should bring them to a wider audience. Dancing Mice seem to instinctively understand that post-punk means taking risks and incorporating diverse influences in innovative ways not simply recycling Gang Of Four bass lines. Ignoring the rules in favour of your own aesthetic is something to be wholly applauded. Eroded is a frighteningly ambitious, clever album that is also thoroughly enjoyable, adventurous and full of joy.
Andy Wood

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