by Stephanie L. Carlin
So – deadmau5 wrote an orchestral album. Yes, that is a sentence that I have typed and that you are reading now. A Canadian DJ and famous troll wrote an orchestral album. An avid classical and jazz lover, I don’t really listen to deadmau5, so when I heard this, I was initially skeptical. Knowing he’s a symphonic metal head an that he’s incredibly good at what he does, I wanted to listen to see what he could come up with between all the tours he does in a year. (seriously, look at his tour schedule. DJs really work).
Side note: the reason I think this album came out so suddenly is to promote TIDAL – the only platform it’s available on. So, unless you want to spend $9.99 for something more limited than Spotify and to listen this one album, I won’t be sharing links to the music. You can try to find it on your own but I doubt you’re going to have any luck or any legal way of doing it considering every song is under this one platform.
Now I already know what you’re thinking: how amazing is it? Does he harken back to the early romantic themes of early Beethoven? Does he take a more mathematical approach and play on early fugues and themes with variation? Or does he go amazingly nuance like John Cage and bang garbage together to make sound?
All sarcasm aside, it’s actually not bad.
Similar to my review of Björk’s latest album Utopia, deadmau5 really tries to create a feeling of comfort that his fans probably never heard before. It’s not like deadmau5 has never written well-structured, powerful songs because, as an EDM artist, it’s his job. He just takes an approach to it that is never really discussed in the outside world: film score. While many Berklee students discuss film scores with every breath they take, most people I know don’t think about them aside from the occasionally John Williams theme.
The length of his songs are particularly interesting. Songs such as “luxuria” are beautiful and straight and to the point, while other songs like “coelacath” could literally star in their own movie. The strings on this album are layered and perfectly produced. You can tell that he put all of this money into these sounds because they are something a CWP student like myself drools over.
Granted, this album does have false advertising, as it’s not completely orchestral. There are plenty of synths sprinkled throughout the album, and like I said, the strings (and likely other instruments) aren’t real. The beginning of “acedia,” for example, starts with an electric piano theme and is coated in distortion in many sections. It’s not like I’m asking for a complete reinvention of deadmau5 because it’s deadmau5. He has a masterclass in electronic music production, but the mixing and added distortion in some sections just didn’t sit well with me at the end of pieces like “avarita” and “fn pig.”
I don’t like the mixing on this album. There are some parts where he really does the strings and the orchestra side of this album justice. He carefully looked through the songs and laid out each string part as it’s supposed to sound. Again though, the effects he uses aren’t always appropriate and I wonder if some parts of the albums were rushed. Add to that, the synth sounds he has would frustrate the classical person who’s as curious about this as I was. There is a random synth that appears during a giant build in “hr 8938 cephei,” and could be irritating especially when woodwinds could accomplish the same effect!
Ultimately, while I wasn’t totally a deadmau5 fan before and am not totally one after, I’m glad I listened to this album. It helped me realize that not everyone needs to be in their comfort zone and some of the best things can come out of the most unexpected places. Still, this isn’t one of my favorite albums. I don’t think I would learn anything from listening to it again because I would still be drooling over the amazing samples. If you’re a deadmau5 or EDM fan and want to explore something different, I recommend it, because if deadmau5, a seasoned music professional, can be willing to get out of his comfort zone that so can all of us.