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New sounds but not a new album
on 8 December 2010
There has been eager anticipation for the new Deadmau5 `4x4=12' album. The astronomical rise of Joel Zimmerman aka Deadmau5 throughout 2010 has been hard to ignore. His Facebook page has attracted over 1 and a half million followers and most of his official YouTube videos push out an average of 1 million views. The release of the new album is a prelude to another hard grind of touring beginning in the UK on the 8th December in Bournemouth (his last tour only a mere 6 months ago).
Zimmerman is not afraid of experimenting with new sounds and delving into different genres. Anybody who has seen pictures of his studio set up will appreciate that he has taken a journey into the production of sound itself. Respectably, he is not signing up with the biggest names in the music biz and bashing out chart toppers (eg. Guetta, Tiesto). For this reason it will not be enjoyed by everyone especially the first time listener. But this is what gives `4x4=12' a distinct sound and a great sound it is too. Unless you are a die hard house (or mau5 as some have called it) fan you may find the production techniques slightly off putting. The opening song `Some Chords' lulls the listener into a false sense of security; we are treated to a few glimpses of what to expect (a dubstep wobble here or there). Then, a siren like sound warns of what is to come. `Sofi Needs a Ladder' slams a deep bass with Sofia Toufa or 'Sofi' providing (almost whiney) lyrics. `Cthulhu Sleeps' has an unmistakable rhythm and a riff that almost sounds like a lumberjack cutting down a tall oak. These songs are polar opposite to any previous song like `I Remember' or `Move for me'. Similarly, `One Trick Pony' is a brutal dubstep onslaught of overdriven synth bass and aggressive lyrical delivery from (a less whiney) Sofi.
For all the in your face sounds that Zimmerman uses he also has an ability to create beautiful melodic breaks and intros. The solo piano intro in `Raise your weapon' creates a real emotion in the lyrics sang by Greta Svabo Bech. The halfway transition into a gritty dubstep beat has the ability to transform the lyrical context from sadness to anger, very impressive. The melodic `Right this second' is also a track that encompasses this transitional structure, utilising `the drop' into a kick drum led synth sound. The fact that Zimmerman uses a room in his house to create all these sounds is a fact that can't be forgotten. If people understood his utilisation of Ableton, VSTs, effects and modular synths, people would be less inclined to say `it all sounds the same'.
Now the problems. Please take note that `4x4=12' is described as a `new mix album' on the deadmau5 website. This is because the release is by no means a `brand new album' as it may be suggested. Four or five of the tracks have been available for some time as singles on beatport and iTunes. `Some Chords' was released in May this year and "I Said" was released even earlier in February! `Sofi needs a ladder' has been around for a considerable time as a non-vocal track `You need a ladder'. In fact most of the tracks have been available as `set rips' (people recording the songs from shows) for at least 6 months. The only songs that have not had much exposure are `Bad Selection' and `Everything Before,' and when you hear them you realise the reason for the underexposure. They are forgettable.
Zimmerman is between a rock and a hard place, he obviously doesn't want to be seen as selling out. He respects his supporters and engages daily with Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and the odd free Ustream gig. In return he has a very loyal fan base (myself included I may add). However, his steady stream of single releases and ustreaming of live DJ sets has meant most people have had this album for almost two months. What incentive do I have to buy it? No doubt there will be pressures from above for Zimmerman to be less open with his music especially if his popularity continues to grow. This is what lets the album down so slightly. The sound is new but the album itself is far from it.