Review Summary: (... or Stuff I Want To Do Again?)
Joel Zimmerman is the musical equivalent of the Olympic diver who chooses to absolutely nail
the basics rather than risk it all to go for gold or bust. While this may seem like a disparaging way to start a review, allow me to qualify by saying that for me, deadmau5 albums have always been safe but immensely satisfying – when it comes to knowing how to build an EDM track, Zimmerman excels, helped no small amount by his phenomenal attention to detail in regards to production. Those searching for something a bit more exciting, a bit more left-field, however, may not find his releases all that fulfilling. 2014’s while (1 is less than 2)
hinted at a little experimentation, from the glitchy atmospheres of ‘Creep’, ‘Rlyeh’s Lament’ and ‘A Moment to Myself’, to the cold, pining piano instrumentals of ‘Gula’, ‘Superbia’ and ‘Invidia’, before seemingly reverting back to form on last year’s rather unheralded W:/2016ALBUM/
. However, if you’re expecting more of the same, think again.
Stuff I Used To Do
is (as you can probably guess by the title) only a new album of sorts. Compiled of unreleased tracks from 1998-2007, here we see a Zimmerman yet to find his place on the EDM map, not so much wearing his influences on his sleeve as attaching a neon sign to his wrists. Vibrant splashes of The Prodigy, Aphex Twin, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, The Crystal Method and Boards Of Canada run rampant throughout this release, complete with a sense of ingenuity, innovation, and most importantly, fun – something all too absent from far too much of deadmau5’ recent output. Stuff…
is filled to the brim with abrasive bassy leads, quirky, major chord progressions, big beat percussion samples, and while there is very little in the way of solid composition, there is more than enough substance – each track demanding your attention, delivering an unexpected twist from the one that precedes it. This is the sound of experimentation, but the production is at such a high standard that it is difficult to see this as the work of any less than a consummate professional. Every track on here brings a brash energy, and whether one minute or ten in length, each one has a raw potential, a theme of the unfinished, a streak of promise.
This leaves something of a mixed taste on the palette though: is Zimmerman releasing this as a sign of things to come? The concept of the imagination on show here finding its way onto a fully mapped-out, structured album is one that assuredly leaves this reviewer salivating. However, given the somewhat sporadic, schizophrenic nature of deadmau5 releases, and Zimmerman’s famed love-but-mostly-hate relationship with the EDM scene, maybe this is just a one-off. Could it be a stop-gap, an opportunity to throw a collection together of tracks he’s just simply never had the chance to put out? Maybe this is a reminder to himself of the music he previously fell in love with? After all, the decision to release this record just three months after his last full album doesn’t suggest standing by his work. Possibly overanalytical, but there is a very uncertain future left for the listener to ponder – but I truly believe this is the best possible way to show the world that deadmau5 has unfinished business.