In direct opposition to the mainstream status of prolific DJ/producers such as Diplo and Danger Mouse, deadmau5 (a.k.a. Joel Thomas Zimmerman) seems content to keep a low profile, happily performing in Daft Punk-style anonymity with trademark cartoon-headed mask. The Canadian DJ’s unadorned electro productions remain largely untainted by Auto-Tune or current Europop trends, and his third full-length release, 4x4=12, is an unapologetic journey into plain-faced, synth-heavy house, obvious in its odes to Human After All and striving to perfect beat-centric mood-setting. Less accessible than his debut, Random Album Title, and its compilation album, For Lack of a Better Name, 4X4=12 is deadmau5 at the grindstone, bearing down with a particularly clicky, prickly dubstep style that’s more memorable for its rhythmic intricacies than snappy hooks or radio-friendly brevity.
There is, however, something to be admired about deadmau5’s ability to make so much out of so little. Despite there being nothing in 4x4=12‘s ingredients that hasn’t been overused or over-tweeked in the house genre for a decade or more, deadmau5 consistently proves to be a master at manipulating the recipe. Something like the Wolfgang Gartner collab “Animal Rights” would be useless for anything other than a car commercial in the hands of a lesser producer, but deadmau5 manages to construct a funky, sexy, milkshake-thick track from its clichéd parts. The eight-minute “Right This Second” pairs nothing more than a typically ‘80s-ish buildup synth and feathery chorus with classic slip-sliding house beats. Deadmau5 gets as much mileage out of that combination as is musically possible without slipping into the numbing repetition of most electrobeat outings.
Still, no matter how well deadmau5 drives it, 4X4=12 is the same tired genre vehicle audiences have been hearing since the mid ‘90s. Tracks like “A City in Florida” and “Cthulhu Sleeps” are standard noise n’ beat affairs, pulsating, phasing, and cycling to little lasting effect. Even the added human element of “Sofi Needs a Ladder” ends up sounding like a second-rate take on Sneaker Pimps’s “Spin Spin Sugar,” with snarky, tone-deaf vocals provided by Sofia Toufa. As dedicated, efficient, and resourceful as deadmau5 is, he’s ultimately unable to escape the severe limitations of his craft, and therefore can’t elevate 4X4=12 beyond standard club fare.