The big buzz surrounding De De Mouse’s latest album A Journey To Freedom has nothing to do with the music inside, but rather the artwork on the outside. The cover, featuring four fantasy-role-play-meets-steampunk youth playing instruments as they walk in front of some weird double-mooned world, comes courtesy of Final Fantasy art designer Akihiko Yoshida. Video game blogs and Japanese-culture-lover sites have hopped all over this story, the majority of emphasis being placed on the cover. Outside of a handful of Japanese-centric music blogs, De De Mouse’s music has been largely glanced over in favor of discussing how boss this would have looked as a Nintendo DS package.
Not a huge shock, though, given how A Journey To Freedom sounds nothing like RPG background tunes. De De Mouse has much more in common with Squarepusher than Square Enix, as Mouse (aka Daisuke Endo) takes many cues from drum and bass over Freedom’s 10 tracks. But even getting remixed by A Guy Called Gerald can’t definitively slot him into the dance sub-genre – Endo’s technicolor compositions dodge categorization by mashing club beats with bright keyboards with some of the most enjoyable vocal samples this side of Hyperdub. It all adds up to one of the year’s most unique and best electronic albums so far.
De De Mouse scurries away from any genre trappings, but most of the tracks on Journey To Freedom at least flirt with drum and bass elements, working in chopped-up breakbeats if not riding them for the song’s entire length. Early highlights “New Town Romancer” and the title track keep the vocals to a minimum, instead recalling Tom Jenkinson’s brighter recordings (listen to the latter after giving “A Journey To Reedham [7 am Mix]” a whirl). Most of the time the classic UK dance elements get slid into less straightforward roles. Despite relying on a skittery series of breaks for percussion, “Double Moon Song” unfolds slowly, its sun-setting-behind-a-mountain synths slowly blanketing various natural samples. Even the more pop-slanted moments here slip in traces of glitchy drum work.
A Journey To Freedom would be nothing but a solid collection of drum and bass beats if it weren’t for Endo’s signature sonic touch – his childlike vocal samples. Whereas dubstep artists take soulful voices out of their original context and turn them into ghostly cries, De De Mouse slices up singing straight out of a Bollywood production and drops them into even more colorful vistas. Though grating initially – listen to the diced screech on “Sweet Gravity” – these touches soon become artist-defining traits and offer up some conflict within at times overly produced dance music – return to the diced screech of “Sweet Gravity.” Album opener “My Favorite Swing” would be just another stab at recreating the soundtrack to Kirby’s Pinball if it weren’t for the bizarro voice sliding up against the sugary music.
When De De Mouse steps back from the drum and bass exercises to let the voices work their magic over more pop-inclined production, A Journey To Freedom really begins to take off. “Starry Mice Parade” and “Like Your Magic” are the best songs Capsule failed to write for their last album, all bright keyboards and big pop drums bringing to mind an alternate universe Madonna more obsessed with childish glee than sex. “Station To Stars” carries over the pop structure of those two songs but finds a way to bend the vocals into something resembling a verse-chorus-verse structure. De De Mouse manages to fit his particularly loopy style of music into a more streamlined mold, and it ends up being the album’s highlight.
Maybe the Final Fantasy artwork can continue bringing De De Mouse exposure to the point of people turning the discussion onto his music, but for now the cover draws the majority of attention to A Journey To Freedom. It’s a shame, because this album is such a left-field production it deserves to be talked about, whether with praise or disdain. I’m on the positive side…De De Mouse has managed to create a bright, upbeat electronic album loaded with catchy sounds and loopy-good vocals without turning it into a crowded corn-syrup mess. I’d be all for seeing a negative review though. Then at least this album would be getting the exposure it deserves.