Nine years on from the release of his debut studio effort Get Scraped, Toronto’s Joel Zimmerman – better known to the wider world as progressive-house kingpin Deadmau5 – drops a staggering 25-track set in the shape of the new double album While (1<2). Each of the two discs comprises an hour-long, continuous mix designed, as Zimmerman says, to be consumed in one sitting each. For those expecting more of the same earth-shattering bass and infectiously hypnotic four-on-the-floor momentum, While (1<2) is the next logical progression for the Deadmau5 juggernaut but for those who haven’t quite been sold in the past, there’s some fascinating textural stuff happening this time around that may just win you over.
Opening up the record is lead single Avaritia which first saw the light of day on Deadmau5’s soundcloud account earlier in the year as part of 7: Seven solo piano pieces named after the latin translations of the Seven Deadly Sins. Heavy huh! Avaritia in its final form straddles the club-banger aesthetic for which Zimmerman has earned an international reputation while ushering in some more detail in the ambience which sets the tone nicely for the rest of this gargantuan double-LP. The beat-less interlude Coelacanth I only reinforces the dreamscape further and slips effortlessly into a remix of Ice Age by Trent Reznor’s OTHER band (y’know, the one with his wife) How To Destroy Angels. It’s stark, lean and a little scary but overall, works a treat.
The wild arpeggiators and circuit-bending synths of My Pet Coelacanth convulse with the heavy-house groove until it all comes undone somewhere around the middle, devolving into a bed of synth pads before, like any great “house” music, re-introduces everything piece-by-piece until a climactic conclusion. The same balance between the calm and the storm is executed perfectly again on third single, the, let’s say “interestingly” titled Infra Turbo Pigcart Racer with deceptively chirpy synths counterbalancing the sheer heft of the beats.
Terrors In My Head plays exactly as you would expect with its punishing ostinatos emanating from somewhere deep in a K-hole being offset by some truly gorgeous piano reminiscent of Aphex Twin’s 2001 double album Drukqs. This false sense of security is continued on Creep (not quite the Radiohead cover some might expect) with its glitchy rhythms swerving and building to a dystopian close before the clear Nine Inch Nails influence is brought to the fore on Somewhere Up Here.
The undulating Phantoms Can’t Hang pulses with incredible dynamic range and the first set of While (1<2) draws to a close with Gula which borrows the melody from the Avaritia. Bear in mind that the record’s title comes from computer programming language that signifies “to loop infinitely” so conceptually, this is a nice way to round out the first “mix”. If this record were a night out at the club, this is the point where you’d go to the bathroom, re-stock yourself with overpriced drinks, slip outside for a cheeky cigarette if you’re that way inclined and brace yourself – physically and mentally – for round 2.
The dichotomy of gorgeous piano and deep, dark beats is continued as Acedia storms through you with its filthy synths and entrancing groove until the sonata of Invidia reminds you that for all the heavy-handed house upon which Deadmau5 has conquered the world, he’s still capable of some true beauty, even if it’s a little jarring.
Errors In My Bread is not only a pun-derful reminder of one of the first set’s standouts, but slows the pace to a menacing stomp and segues into a remix of Survivalism from the 2007 Nine Inch Nails record Year Zero. Reznor’s iconic howl works incredibly well in such a deconstructed setting before the almost folk-y Silent Picture builds with nylon-string guitars and ‘80s synth beds into the minimalism of Rhylehs Lament which is again, bridges the gap between the mid-‘90s IDM of Richard “Aphex Twin” D. James and the EDM of 2014.
After some more gentle piano resplendence in the form of Superbia, Mercedes kicks into gear with an arpeggiator that echoes the Who’s Baba O’Reilly intro but maybe don’t go grabbing your classic rock-loving dad just yet as it explodes into side-chain compressors, thundering bass and a relentless build that would surely make him just a little uncomfortable. The grinding atmospherics of Bleed lead into Ira – another sweet piano piece – before the disconcerting sound of a lazily strummed acoustic guitar introducing Monday grabs your ear, purely by virtue of how out-of-place it feels on a record like this. It sounds like an offcut from OK Computer or Portishead’s Dummy with the mono-synth and vocoder reminding you that instead of a hodgepodge collection of disparate ideas, this is indeed an ambitious work of EDM mastery.
A Moment To Myself is equally ominous but the chirpiness of Pets reels you right back in with an overall happier feel which is welcome relief this far into the expansive tracklising of While (1<2). Coelacanth II cleverly takes everything right back to the start with some cyclical continuity before the record draws to a close with the slinky funk of second single Seeya (Feat. Colleen D’Agostino). D’Agostino is probably best known as the frontwoman for San Diego outfit The Material and her sweetly melodic vocals effectively balance some of the heavier parts of the record. It feels like this should’ve been closer to the start of the second set, but rounds out the album nicely nonetheless.
Deadmau5 is one of about three entities at the absolute peak of electronic music in 2014 and boy does he know what to do with that kind of pressure. Lesser producers would continue to just work on remixes and one-off tracks but Zimmerman has assembled an incredibly ambitious set that, at times feels a little drawn out, but still manages to coalesce with a continuity that justifies its title. While (1<2) is a sprawling tapestry of all things EDM with a level textural detail that separates it from most and whether you’re into this kind of thing or not, the execution of such a massive concept is essentially flawless and for this, Zimmerman must be duly recognized as a true artist.