Coming in at way, way over an hour, Deadmau5’s while(1<2) certainly fills the gap that has been yawning ever wider since his last full release in 2012. Spanning two discs, these twenty-five tracks certainly have enough time to explain what Joel has been up to these last couple of years. I looked forward to having that explained to me, because as far as I could tell, Zimmerman’s last couple of years have consisted of buying and mutilating exotic cars, recording coffee runs with celebrities, playing with incredibly expensive toys, and stoking controversy in the stateside EDM scene every now and again with his big mouth. It might sound like I’m not particularly fond of the mau5 from all that, but I find this particularly polarising Canadian quite endearing, specifically because he doesn’t give a flying fuck about what people think of him.
Deadmau5 could have very easily slotted into the fold with Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, Afrojack, and Armin Van Buuren. His earlier work especially, was in and of the category now called tech house that dominates the roster of commercial rave festivals like Ultra. However, whilst he did make some of the best music in that particular category (think Strobe, Cthulhu Sleeps), he has never allowed himself to be defined by whatever genre he happens to have produced a song in most recently. Indeed, he has never let his identity be defined at all. For a while he was anonymous behind the mouse head, then he just sort of got bored of that and now regularly appears without it. I wouldn’t even go as far as to say that what we’re witnessing is progression, it’s just a guy with a lot of areas of interest feeling free to take a sock at all of them without pressure from fans, friends, or industry. If Joel Zimmerman wants to make a popping candy track like Maths and have it on the same album as a swaggering Cypress Hill instrumental, so be it.
Let’s get down to while(1<2). The first single and opening track of the release is something well expected from the Canadian rodent. It’s a blend of the massive fizzy risers recognisable from tracks like F’n Pig, to the fitful and dark techno drops that are peppered sneakily throughout Deadmau5’s entire discography. This first track lifted the cloud of skepticism surrounding the silliness of the album name, of the length of the release, and of the continued trend of cryptic and obscure track names. Avaritia is a solid opener for this release, and a great demonstration of why Deadmau5’s sound engineering prowess, scarcely matched by anyone anywhere, allows him to play with such basic and formulaic elements so successfully. Every single sound is so carefully considered, it’s hard to ignore the building momentum of this superficially repetitive track. It’s the little things: the way the reverberations of big chord stabs pitch upward as though they themselves are subject to the Doppler effect as they fly forward in space. Perhaps they’re nerdy details, but they work on me.
The second single, The Infra Turbo Pigcart Racer, is the weakest of those released so far. I find that whenever Deadmau5’s tracks become too melodically busy, they quickly reach a point of diminishing returns where every new note adds to an abrasive cacophony rather than the lush soundscapes that I know he is capable of constructing.
Terrors In My Head’s first section is another fine example of Deadmau5’s skill with constructing compelling dark techno, with just enough variation to punctuate the dark atmospheres. The second section of this track is where Joel seems to suddenly remove his mouse head again. As we’ve been seeing hints of recently (but never on a full release until now), Joel is a profoundly talented composer of atmospheric piano pieces that are punctuated with careful sound design and impeccable engineering. The result is a lush and touching piano comedown, surrounded and complemented by organic glitches. The theme of keys continues with Creep, which evolves into a sort of breakbeat piano piece with a haunting melody that I’m sure will stay with me for some time.
Gula is another exhibition of Deadmau5’s absolute rejection of categorisation. Transitioning suddenly from atmospheric piece to near apocalyptic distorted beats, like something I’d imagine a tribe of Transformers would do their rain dance to. Then we’re into a characteristically late-period Deadmau5 melodic riser, a snatch of beautiful piano keys, and before we have time to get comfortable we’re back into something with drum ‘n’ bass-y sound design. The combination works together so cohesively that it’s hard to even describe the track as a chimera of all these elements, but there it is.
The second disc opens with one of the piano solos from Deadmau5’s mysterious 7 release, where each track took its name from the seven deadly sins. It was my favourite from the unexpected release, and it’s a shame that it now turns into the most disappointing tracks on the album. A perhaps ironic use of a distinctly Afrojack synth line comes off as derivative rather than innovative; I wish he’d left the piano solo alone.
Errors In My Bread is another great atmospheric techno piece that wouldn’t go amiss on a movie soundtrack, but Bleed is perhaps the standout atmospheric track on the album, blending strings with drones to great effect. Not forgetting Silent Picture, which uses chopped acoustic guitar innovatively. The diversity on this album is astonishing, and by the end of the second disc you have the feeling that you’ve glimpsed into some great chasm of creative energy. It seems that Deadmau5 is still pushing the outer bounds of his catalogue into new uncharted areas and into combinations of things anybody else would never have thought to combine in the same way.
Off the back of this album, I have to hold two different perceptions of Deadmau5. First, there’s the live streaming, loud-mouthed goofball with a little more money than sense, and second there’s this guy with so much energy and creativity he can barely be contained in a double disc album. I just wish he’d stop bringing on vocalists. It never ends well.