Mice Parade’s main man Adam Pierce has been making music under this anagrammatic moniker for almost a decade now, crafting his own brand of unique sounds from the debris of post-rock, shoegazer, electronica, indie-pop, dub, and various types of world music. While his earlier records found him making primarily instrumental tunes with decidedly complex rhythms and ornate, sometimes modal melodies, the last couple of albums have seen him transition toward more concise vocal-centric songs. Though Pierce is again helped here by some of his regular collaborators (fellow drummer extraordinaire Doug Scharin of Him, master vibesman Dylan Christy of the Dylan Group, and the velvet-voiced Kristin Anna Valtysdottir of Mum – coincidentally all groups which he’s participated in at some point as well), it’s still very much his vision that drives this seventh Mice Parade album, from the highly syncopated drumbeats to the swinging melodic sensibilities he applies to the nine tracks here.
Pierce is a gifted musician, and he plays many of the instruments on his albums, multi-tracking layers of percussion, guitars, keyboards, and other instruments to great effect. While his superb rhythmic sensibility was once the focus of Mice Parade’s music, it seems that it now serves more as a backdrop for the melodic and lyrical side of things. It’s a curious duality, one which creates the illusion of simplicity in these often complex works, masking the complicated nature of the music by placing the vocals in the foreground. Sometimes it works well, though other times it backfires and the pieces feel trapped by their vocal components, unable to break free and truly soar. Although the production is top notch (Piece recorded most of the album in his own newly rebuilt home studio and it sounds great sonically) and the playing is rock solid, a couple of the songs themselves sound a little underdeveloped or uninspired.
One notable exception to this is â€œDouble Dolphins on the Nickel,â€ a lovely duet with Kristin from Mum. The piece unfolds slowly, an irregularly syncopated rhythmic stutter and a plucked acoustic guitar providing a bed for her childlike and sensuous vocals. The rhythm shifts when Pierce joins in about halfway through the track, bringing out an unusual lopsidedness in their phrasing. Their voices entwine beautifully, and the cascading flow of vibraphone which follows each of their lines adds even more charm to this standout track. Another piece which works well is â€œTales of Las Negras,â€ one of three tracks featuring vocal contributions from Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab. Her detached air acts as a foil for Pierce’s earnest yet unadorned singing, which occasionally brings to mind Lou Barlow of Sebadoh. It’s pleasant enough, but things seem to work best when there’s another voice in the mix to balance out his occasionally droll sounding delivery. Additionally, both his singing and his lyrics can come across as somewhat naive and amateurish, and although this may have been his intent, it sometimes falls flat, lacking the nuance and/or the emotional depth to transcend these limitations.
Ultimately, Mice Parade is a neither a masterpiece nor a hideous pile of rubbish. Instead, it’s a quality effort that still feels somewhat unsatisfying despite the many talents of Pierce and his collaborators. There are two distinct phases of the Mice Parade canon (so far): one purely instrumental and the other primarily vocal. For fans of older material such as Mokoondi and Ramda, this record might be a bit of a letdown, but those who liked the transitional gem Obrigado Saudade and the more recent Bem-Vinda, Vontade will likely find much to enjoy here. Although this record does offer one fine instrumental number (the lovely â€œCircle None,â€ with echoes of both African guitar and balafon music and also some cool cinematic keyboard ambience), I can’t help but feel that several of these tracks suffer by being anchored to the trappings of proper song form. At the core of Mice Parade‘s sonic bubble, the essence of Pierce’s music is mostly unchanged, a swirl of charged atoms (Adams?) bouncing off of each other in order to create a nucleus of kinetic energy that holds together each of his finely crafted works. It’s admirable that his vision has evolved over time, allowing for a more personal (and interpersonal) means of communication to emerge via vocals and lyrics, and for what it is, Mice Parade is a fine record. And yet, in my mind, he was able to communicate so much more when he chose to say nothing and let his dynamic and exploratory music speak for itself.
The Notwist – Neon Golden
Small Sails – Similar Anniversaries
Him – Many in High Places Are Not Well