self released, 2011, DD album, 44m 18s
At the instrumental level Mouse Drawn Cart is not massively transgressive. There are some heavy guitars, chainsaw distorted bass, some metal riffing, some industrial-lite beats reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails (‘I’m Not Scared Of You’); there is a very dark and sophisticated approach to texture, and its arrangement into a narrative structure; and there’s some great playing. It’s the songs and the vocal performances that really set this apart; or rather, it’s the whole, but it’s the particular combination of sounds and material that makes this music so unique and so disturbing.
Regular readers will know how much I value creativity and experiment, but I value them only as a means to an end, which is listenable music, or to put it another way, audible meanings. In music, meaning is always, in some degree, aesthetic, and a sense of aesthetic value depends on a fine balance between the familiar and the novel; between the stylistically conventional and the generically transgressive. Too familiar and the music is anodyne; too transgressive and it loses its capacity to signify. Mouse Drawn Cart tips the scale in favour of novelty, as you can probably guess, but the project’s stylistically conventional elements are so full of juicy sturm und drang that it has my fist pumping throughout, and its meanings are always accessible (assuming you’re open to a bit of darkness and aggression in your music.)
So what does this unconventional racket actually sound like? Well, a good starting point would be industrial metal. There’s actually not a huge preponderance of electronics in the sound, and frequently a looser, punkier feel than you would in find in the music that usually carries that label, but there’s a hollow anomie in the vocals, redolent of 1980s synth-pop, that is very rarely heard in company with these guitar sounds; it’s this combination of vocal cold with instrumental heat that signals the need to listen outside of our usual stylistic categories.
And if the previous paragraph gives the impression that Mouse Drawn Cart = metal guitars + post-punk vocals, there’s a lot more to it than that. Sometimes thrashy, occasionally junglist, sometimes funky, and sometimes satirically referential, the arrangements of these songs are wide ranging, clever, always musical, and consistently involving. It’s a very distinctive sound, although it is, for me, strangely reminiscent of the early EBM act Nitzer Ebb, especially on ‘Unnatural Gathering Of Animals’ and ‘My Days Are Numbered Small’. Sonically, Mouse Drawn Cart uses limited resources, and exploits them to their maximum effect, making particularly skillful and striking use of distortion: on ‘You Are Gone Forever’ the tortured, distorted vocal is backed up by instrumental sounds that are fuzzed into incoherence, but the whole is tied together by a fat drum beat, and a chilly, melancholy FM organ pad.
If I have a criticism of this release, it’s that it’s not well presented: as downloaded, three of the tracks had (discontinuous) track numbers in their ID3 tags, while a further four had numbers in their titles; some had no genre, while the others were split between two (neither of which were any use at all in alerting the listener to what the music might sound like). Essentially, it’s a bunch of tracks uploaded to Soundcloud, which I downloaded and reviewed as a release because their author urged me to do so (and because they are just too good for me to ignore), but this music seriously deserves a lot more attention to its presentation and marketing.
The quality of this music is incredible, considering how much profile it has (which is to say, fuck all). Why doesn’t the world know about Mouse Drawn Cart? Well, see the previous paragraph. Personally I would have no problem with positioning these sounds alongside the first rank of experimental rock music: they are right there on the intarwebz, and you can download them for free from the address above; as far as I know there’s no prospect of hearing this stuff live, but this totally obscure project is one of the most creative and stimulating things I’ve heard. No one knows better than me that there is an enormous hinterland of brilliant unknown music to be explored, far too much for anyone to ever hear it all, but if you like the experimental and intelligent end of rock then this is a good place to start.