It’s all in there, somewhere. Or at least I’ve fooled myself into thinking that it is. “All,” referring to the accumulated chops and gestures and signage and grooves and grooves denied that have accrued over the course of Jan St. Werner’s tenure in Mouse on Mars, Microstoria, and as Lithops. (The name of Jan’s solo work has always struck me as deceptively gentle. Lithops are plants from Namibia and South Africa also known as “living stones” for their—ding!—deceptive appearance.)
It’s all in there, or much of it, on Mound Magnet. More so than on the other Lithops releases, each of which could be said to comprise a narrower set of oft-lucid investigations. Two of Jan’s most recent releases — Mouse on Mars’s space funk juggernaut Radical Connector and Lithops’ quite fabulous and to my mind underrated (dunno, maybe I had my head beneath a lithops) and smeary and sometimes vicious Scrypt (find it if you don’t know it)—are two of the more dissimilar records in the batch containing his fingerprints. Mound Magnet makes cheerful overtures towards commonalities. “Vortext,” one of Mound Magnet’s sublimities, means that you no longer have to imagine Scryptlike grit’n’snot put into service of sirens (inhuman upward glisses) summoning you to the dance floor. Why don’t you spin “Vortext” this very second and tell me if you agree? Equidistant from—between—Radical Connector and the futuristic, sprayed daubs and fizzles of Scrypt.
If I think I hear it all in there, what else am I hearing? Uni Umit, the first Lithops record on Moikai; Mouse on Mars’s Idiology; the rubber-bandish electric guitar that leads off MoM’s Niun Niggung; much besides. Hearing it all in there . . . somewhere . . . is less a matter of being fooled than of trusting . . . in . . . accumulated . . . wisdom. Non-renunciation. That’s something that has kept me coming back to each new record of MoM/Microstoria/Lithops. Jan St. Werner is less the perpetual refugee from and much more perpetually astride these multiple musical worlds.
Non-renunciation, and yet Lithops always reminds me of how far we’ve drifted from electronic music’s presumed utilitarian function as dance music. I’m not reminded of this because Lithops has drifted into the ether of contemporary composition, or that he (it) has become all whooshily texture-centric and now creates sand mandalas out of granulated audio. No! It’s because of the varied afterlives of the break beat, the shake beat, of shed skin and abandon seat. MoM’s Radical Connector really was a classically-styled funk album, spaceship torch songs and all. “Funk” here—I guess I’m still talking about “Vortext,” but also about “Stakes Barrier,” “Cephalopod,” and “Harpoon Point”—is a series of improvised gestures . . . How to further describe? [Actor makes karate-chop gestures.] “Stakes Barrier” in particular seems like a particularly sinister afterlife of a rave misremembered. “Peek,” avowedly otherwise, revisits the stumble beat (hello Bolan, hello Oehlen).
Nobody said that Lithops was built to get the joint jumping. And yet, and yet……. Less cartoonish, perhaps, but no less funny. When you have ceased to expect it, there’s the revenge of the trashy drum machine, the bedroom electric guitar, of overdriven stepwise samples you had understood to be banished in the bright dawn of Lithops. Nope. It’s almost all in there.
You should be so lucky as to misremember a music so vivid.
Mound Magnet artwork by David Maljkovic