Mouse On Mars






Mouse On Mars is the electronic music project of Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma that was established in 1993. There isn't any electronic-related subgenre that the duo hasn't considered, touched or modified in one of their several albums. In a way, the band doesn't need any further introduction, but due to their ever-changing style, these gentlemen are often times alienating their fans, as they'll never know what to expect. This also implies that Mouse On Mars is no Ambient band. Sure, a few tracks interweave ethereal synth swirls with dubby bass lines or straight 4/4 beats, but in the latter years, these soothing elements were exchanged and thus got less important. Vulvaland is their debut album from 1994, and as I've written in a few other Ambient reviews before, that year marks the turning point for electronic music. Although I'm purposefully oversimplifiying the various niches and genres, the following simple rule of thumb sums it up quite nicely: either the artist goes for the analog warmth and creates deeply swirling, melodious soundscapes – or the artist establishes a counterpoint and prefers hissy hi hats, high-pitched frizzles and eclectic beat structures. That these two distinctive approaches are merged time and again is all the better. You get the best of both worlds, so to speak. Vulvaland is all lush and deeply relaxing, but also refreshingly quirky and sophisticated without getting rid of the melodies, the textures and warped filters. This album by Mouse On Mars is curiously deep and serious, the duo doesn't try to be witty and funny, and yet the mood is dreamy and not overly heavy. It's hard for me to find the right words; this album is a feast for Ambient listeners. Its 7 tracks (plus 2 hidden untitled addendums) inherit the melodious synth side of electronic music, and while there is strictly speaking only one true beatless Ambient track on the album, the coherence of the presented material is so well-crafted that once you like one tune, chances are good that you like all of them.

The 9+ minute long anthem Frosch is one of the band's most popular and melodious songs. It begins with short loops of flittering synth glaciers, electronic percussion and angelic synth strings that pulsate organically. After 30 seconds, a pumping beat is introduced, but this is no club track, as the ambience factor is kept high. The synths remain the most important element, and even though electric guitar-like backings and artificial hand claps enter the scenery, the mind-blowing, slightly overdriven synth flute melody and its quicker, high-pitched foil make this a hypnotic track. Gentle zipper-esque acid hooks – the oxymoron if there ever was one! – coalesce excellently with the flow. A pitch-perfect example of a Mouse On Mars track of the 90's. It's slightly quirky, but the dreamy setting, however, is most important. The next song Elli Im Wunderland is even more blissed out and psychedelic: it starts with scissor sounds and a glowing siren, but becomes a full-grown dub song with rapturous spectral synth howls and percussion-driven counterparts. Distorted and hardly decipherable prayers or lamentos are towering above the mix, and even though this element could be nerve-racking to some, I don't actually mind the vocal addition, though it doesn‘t enhance the track for me in any way. Uah is next and presents serene synth washes behind a wall of quirky acid bubbles. It is rather speedy and hectic, and the synths wane for a long time while the quirkiness resides. This constant juxtaposition of cozy backing synths and harsh front percussion is the selling point of this song, and even though the swirls disappear from time to time, their warm afterglow is still stuck in my head.

The following Chagrin, while implying wrath and danger, is actually the most laid back track, making it a top choice for Ambient fans. Fragile bell pulses, hazily trembling synthscapes and siren-like howls in the background form a hypnotic unity that is often amplified by short distorted synth bursts. The percussion strolls along, reduced to a minimum, and only the prolongated bursts and jumpy, Oval-like acid fragments are an element of power and liveliness. Another one of my favorite tracks. Die Seele Von Brian Wilson (Brian Wilson's Soul) is the quirkiest song of Vulvaland. A rumbling groove, a few bits of static noise, drugged bells and a short warped female vocal loop are merged on this track, making this a rather rustic track that concentrates far more on the percussion side than on the melodies. While Future Dub is another reduced song that consists of electric ravens, various organ sprinkles and clangings on a rumbling 4/4 beat, the 11+ minute long Katang presents a Geiger counter groove, terrifically icy synth backings and and acid lines next to an introductory aural vista of a dusky wasteland. The two hidden tracks are a low-volume sound collage of various bells, clicks and deep dub bass lines on the one hand, and a – in my opinion terrible – dance tune without any glint of a synth string that would have elevated it to a greater song. But hey, it's a bonus track that shows the duo's playfulness that was adapted time and again on all consecutive albums.

Vulvaland is a superb album – which means that you can listen to it in one go, enjoy the consistency and worship the beautiful synthesizer landscapes that Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma come up with. All tracks are very strong, but I can only speak in the most glowing terms about Frosch, Elli Im Wunderland and Uah due to their mellow strings and careful introduction of each element. Now that we're decades away from 1994, it becomes apparent that Vulvaland encapsulates that 90's feeling of sophisticated electronic music beyond the obnoxious Eurodance movement. It sounds dated, but not in a bad way! It simply transports the 90's feeling through time and space, and believe me, I'm not being nostalgic. If you want an even more mellow and entirely beatless listening experience, listen to 1995's Init Ding by Microstoria. I don't recommend this album out of the blue, as this is the project of Markus Popp of Oval and Jan St. Werner. It too has that 90's Ambient style but is even cozier and dreamier than Vulvaland, which, on the other hand, merges Ambient with danceability and is thus a perfect companion for workout sessions on rainy days. Well, that's my primary use for it. However, listen to it via headphones or at home if you can, as its plasticity should blow you away. An iridescent classic whose Ambient factor is juuust big enough to justify its inclusion in this section.


Ambient Review 057: Mouse On Mars – Vulvaland (1994). Originally published on Apr. 11, 2012 at