I purchased The Police’s “Outlandos D’amour” the other day, without knowing why. I’d never been particularly fond of the band; in fact, I’ve always had a strong personal distaste for Sting in particular. And yet, there I was in my room, peeling the shrink-wrap off the English lads’ animated faces.
The mystery seemed solved when I placed the disc in my “now playing” stack, right above Mice Parade’s “Bem-Vinda Vontande.” I had come to possess, in the span of only a few days, no less than two albums by bands that had forgone the traditional route of titling their albums in English.
But, seriously, I have a point here. As a point of comparison, The Police record’s choice of title is markedly different—the title is in French, which a lot of people speak, and, besides, almost anyone could guess with some accuracy as to what “Outlandos D’Amour” means; The Police weren’t trying to be difficult. “Bem-Vinda Vontande” is in Portuguese, which is not as popular in England and America, the bands’ obvious markets. But there may be an explanation. This title, along with the last Mice Parade album, “Obrigado Saudade,” supposedly translates into the phrase—“Thank You Nostalgia, Welcome, Will.” Ehh, what?
Just as the choice for the title of the record might suggest, Mice Parade is subtle music made by subtle people. It feels extremely small, and it’s meant to, like the musical equivalent of a shrug, a sigh, a yawn.
This is pop music in the same sense that Broken Social Scene is, and in fact head Parader Adam Pierce has employed a Broken-esque collaborative ethos on this, his fifth release, bringing in buddies from groups such as HiM and The Dylan Group to flesh out the sound. The most notable contributions come from Kristin Anna Valtysdottir, usually found vocalizing for the Icelandic pop-sensations Icelanders múm, whose airy, breathy style here is truly creepy.
The songs on “Ben-Vinda” are all rooted in an acoustic, folksy mindset, with a heavy dose of Flamenco percussion and Spanish guitar thrown in the mix, topped off with touches of electronic bloops and bleeps, and washed over with waves of noise at appropriate times. This sounds like a promising formula, and for the most part, it is; “Bem-Vinda” is very effervescent, very fragile, constantly threatening to float off into the ether and not come back.
Pierce and Valtysdottir’s give-and-go on “Ground as Cold as Common,” with the two seemingly alternately forgetting that its their turn to sing is, again, a lovely piece of music, but the song lacks any oomph, and the refrain “So take your precious time / these bottles full of wine” ultimately feels empty.
But its on songs like “Waterslide,” with the drums hitting hard on the one, or “The Boat Room,” with its fuzzed out bass effect, where the sound has some bite to it. By not being so goddamned low-key all the time, Pierce creates a balance on these tracks that downplays the soothing effects of the rolling xylophone ambience and techno-glitches. He finally provides a rock solid foundation for himself to sing/float over.
I realized that listening to Mice Parade—with its beautiful, lush arrangements, its off-the-beaten-path rhythms and its ambitious song lengths—made me crave something dumb, something fast, something to the point; specifically, “Can’t Stand Losing You.”
The divergence here is in the theory behind a song; with The Police, each song is about something, usually something painfully obvious. Mice Parade is the antithesis of this style, pushing forth a mood, a feeling, on each track—more poetry than prose. There’s nothing wrong with “Bem-Vinda,” per se, and it’s certainly intriguing, but it just fails to captivate. For some reason, it comes off as indecisive rather than complex.
Listening to Mice Parade created an itch that needed to be scratched. For whatever reason, Sting was there, with his hooks and verses and bridges and choruses, to scratch that itch.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars