Joel Zimmerman has certainly seen his fair share of controversy in the last two years since his last album release. From his ended engagement with tattoo artist Kat Von D to a new record deal with Astralwerks, change has been the only constant for the globetrotting Canadian producer. Yet the outspoken artist has managed to evolve and achieve staggering commercial success and simultaneous critical acclaim without pandering to the charts via predictable generic sounds or featured pop stars.
Whether or not he’d like to admit it, the most recent work from the Canadian superstar is quite indicative of the past 24 months’ emotional toll. Looking back at his unrest, Zimmerman replaced three years of Soundcloud uploads with his brooding “7” EP last November, which consisted of seven mournful piano sonatas that were painful to listen to. Not because they weren’t good (they were), but because they conveyed a sadness that even had his fans flocking to social feeds to check in on his condition.
Although such melancholic moments do not define While (1<2), they do interrupt it at times. While (1<2) is technically the seventh studio full-length, but Zimmerman has branded it as “the first album [he’s] ever done that [he] would even call an album.”
Clocking in at just over two hours long, the huge 25-track effort takes listeners on a majestic journey through the rounds of spirited progressive house and experimental electronica to tender piano interludes with surprising ease.
A monster double album deserves an epic opener and deadmau5 delivers just that on lead single Avaritia.
A powerful lead synth melody is joined by a rumbling beat comprised of dark, distorted bass hits and fresh percussion, recalling the stark minimalism of deadmau5’s “Random Album Title” output. Following on from the high opening track, deadmau5 brings us back down and when I mean down, I mean down! Coelacanth I showcases a strong progressive feel with long sweeping pads and slow builds giving the listener a sense of unease.
“How to Destroy Angels” – Ice Age (deadmau5 Remix) is continues the sense of unease but it can also be considered the type of complex electronica that can be danced to; but it wasn’t specifically made for that purpose.
The thing about deadmau5 is his unpredictability; first time listeners of While (1<2) will certainly pick up on this. The fourth track My Pet Coelacanth demonstrates the iconic melodic feel his fans have grown to love. The combination of punchy, crisp stabs alongside a terrific melody shows that although Zimmerman is experimenting with new sounds, he is true to his roots.
Sending us back to the 80’s is Infra Turbo Pigcart Racer. The minimal yet quite melodic nature of this track reflects that similar to artists like Kavinsky and Daft Punk. Speaking of Daft Punk, the following track Terrors In My Head also draws strong resemblance of what one would hear on the Tron Legacy soundtrack. The long and saddening piano accompanied with the up-roaring of distorted bass stabs makes this track the dark horse of the entire album.
Back to ground zero, Creep reflects what we had mentioned earlier about the mournful piano sonatas but plays alongside a variety of sound effects which would make it perfect for any movie score.
Somewhere Up Here is yet another interlude. Its progressive sound that features a distorted guitar, soft looping vocals and elegant piano work is very much similar to that of Porcupine Tree.
Running in at just over nine minutes (maybe a couple too long) is Phantoms Can’t Hang. The track features soft plucks and stabs that nest over a thick background of pads and a throbbing bass which ties perfectly into the final track of disc one, Gula; which reflects the many of the different elements disc one has to offer.
The second disc starts off with heavy ponderous piano chords that introduce a driving beat. Setting the tone for the album’s second chapter, Acedia send the message that things are starting to warm up.
Invidia comes into play next and it’s somewhat of an evil-sounding track due to the delicate piano melodies. Upbeat in the face of dark atmospherics, the interlude leaves a lingering feeling of unresolved tension.
Shifting from a dark and depressive tone to something more upbeat, Errors in My Bread sports sparse drum work and a gliding lead that recalls Depeche Mode, offering lapses into a sorrowful solo piano break that is intentionally abrupt in its marked mood shift.
To his credit, deadmau5 has never shied away from taking stylistic risks and importing past influences into his present. Deciding to remix Nine Inch Nails’ “Survivalism” certainly paid off as Trent Reznor’s overdriven vocals and crushing rhythm guitars give the album a pounding refreshment.
Deciding to drop the ‘heaviness’ back down is certainly what Silent Picture nails. From one extreme to the other, some lovers would be against it; but it works so well. The simple strummed guitars bolster this beat-free melodic beauty and re-paints the atmosphere of While (1<2) to perfectly tie into the following track. Following on with the chill downtempo progressions, Riyehs Lament and Superbia are yet other well-executed experimental outings that will be interesting to see adapted to live performance.
Mercedes is the second disc’s answer to Infra Turbo Pigcart Racer. Deadmau5 delivers another progressive nine-minute masterpiece whose arcing arpeggiators and percolating softsynths could draw comparisons to Giorgio Moroder.
Filtered low-end chords and contemplative melodic hits characterize Bleed as a serene analog lullaby. Bleed is an emotional production that succeeds in also being one of the album’s most memorable.
Ira and Monday add further progression to the second chapter of the album, that successfully keep us hooked and waiting to see how this journey will end.
With a lush soundscape of birds and indefinable background sounds introducing musing melodic notes and a mesmerizing tapestry of interwoven synth pads, A Moment To Myself is definitely deadmau5 supporting the fragile interplay with minimal percussion that complements the stirring song without breaking its spell.
Many have questioned whether or not Pets drew inspiration from his celebrity cat Mr. Meowingtons, the second disc’s strongest track is affectionate and endearing with its upbeat galloping synth line and gentle reverberating drums.
The penultimate track Coelacanth II is the final interlude of the album and playfully entwines the melodies of Pets with the album-closing vocal swansong “Seeya” via a sweeping assembly of oscillating synth drones.
After two hours of pure epic deadmau5, Joel Zimmerman concludes While (1<2) on a funky future house note with Colleen D’Agostino singing over a hefty bass line. Seeya is an interesting stylistic choice to end with a track judged catchy enough to enjoy second-single status.
When listening to each track, one cannot help but feel the varied textures seem to mirror its creator’s own emotional and experiential extremes. Sprawling, ambitious and mostly well-executed, While (1<2) may confuse his fan base’s Ultra-attending electro house contingent, but deadmau5’s double album undoubtedly marks his most mature and forward-thinking release to date.