It’s been two years since deadmau5 released his last album while(1<2), and fans have grown a bit weary in the interim waiting for his next full-length studio effort. The time has finally come though and Joel Zimmerman’s eighth LP, W:/2016Album has now arrived, bringing along eleven (previously heard) new tracks to satisfy our hunger for fresh mau5 material.
The new album’s release is a bit unorthodox, softened by the fact that Zimmerman himself made every track on the final cut available online at some point or another in the time leading up to its release. While these tastes of new music over the last year or so pointed towards one of the strongest deadmau5 albums yet, the finished product ranks as a satisfying entry that falls just short of its potential.
First up is the album’s lead single “4Ware,” a delay-drenched progressive house outing with sequenced arpeggios and drifting melodies. We’ve heard this type of thing out of deadmau5 on countless tracks before, but here we see his usual formulas flawlessly displayed. “4Ware” sets the pace for the first half of the album, outlining the mau5 house dominated sound that runs through a number of the opener tracks.
From the first few notes of “2448,” it’s clear that we’re in for another epic sonic journey, as deadmau5 crafts his finest ambient toned synth passages. A powerful melody cuts through the lush backdrop, growing in intensity as the Canadian producer opens up the filter of one of his many synthesizers. It cements the album’s strong introduction, inspiring a sense of triumph in the listener before diving head first into the type of 4×4 driven synthscapes we’ve come to expect from the mau5.
“2448” is followed suit by “Cat Thruster,” an electro-laden club banger that juxtaposes classical-tinged motifs with relentless energy. Down the line we get a similar effort with “Imaginary Friends,” a thumping club cut with churning riffs and robotic rhythms. While it’s a solid outing, listening to it you can’t help but feel like we’ve heard Zimmerman using these same rhythms on past tracks. However, there’s still some interesting variations going on and both “Cat Thruster” and “Imaginary Friends” bring the kind of party vibe to the record that established deadmau5 as one of the kings of dance music.
The first half of the album is largely dominated by the progressive house hallmarks that brought the producer to prominence, and while most of these tracks are excellent examples of Zimmerman’s production mastery, “Deus Ex Machina,” falls a bit short. Set among six strong house outings, this tune just fails to leave much of an impression with its overly repetitive and drawn out structure. In fact, nothing in the song takes the lead and all the sounds just sort of fade into the background.
Deadmau5 breaks up the house oriented first half of the album with “Glish,” an experimental number with a rhythmic section that recalls the glitched out beats of IDM. Whining synths, arcade blips and throwback wubs dominate the track, which serves as one of the more unexpected moments on the record. A lot of attention is paid to texture, and it’s cool to see the producer getting out of his comfort zone a bit.
The album’s standout tune is “Let Go,” the Grabbitz collaboration that originally surfaced last summer under the working title “Blood For The Bloodgoat.” Serving as the second official single from the LP, “Let Go” ranks among classic deadmau5 tracks like “Strobe” and “The Veldt,” with its use of haunting ambience, pulsing house rhythms and ethereal vocals courtesy of Grabbitz. It’s an intoxicating blend of all of Zimmerman’s best qualities, and we’re glad it finally has an official place in deadmau5’s discography. The album comes packed with an extended eleven minute version of the song as well, which is just as awesome as you’d expect it to be.
“Three Pound Chicken Wing” provides some final firepower for the record as deadmau5 offers up his last house effort on W:/2016Album. The persistent pounding of the kick drum underscores the track, as thumping bass synths and distant pads take over. Zimmerman even works in some thundering snare rolls that recall his past effort “FML.”
W:/2016Album concludes with “Whelk Then,” a tune that exhibits the more experimentally leaning trip hop vibe present on the record. Haunting synths form a lush but dark backdrop, as deadmau5 works in a looping hip hop beat. Gothic piano notes echo in the distance, as spiralling synth tones converge to create a drifting soundscape that encompasses the listener. It’s a standout tune in Zimmerman’s catalog, and serves as a fitting end to his latest studio effort.
Part of what makes deadmau5 an interesting case study when it comes to EDM producers is his working method. Whereas some artists have opted to abandon the sound that brought them to prominence in search of more innovative sonic ground, Zimmerman has chosen to carve out a signature style which he gradually improves upon with each new outing. Case in point, the synth work on W:/2016Album is exceptionally mesmerizing, utilizing all the tried and true techniques that the deadmau5 brand is built on, while offering up an encapsulating array of slowly evolving filter sweeps and echo drenched melodies that rank among his best yet.
The first half of the album is a solid progressive house workout, featuring track after track in the style that made deadmau5 famous, all executed with the level of mastery we’ve come to expect from him. The second half of the gets more experimental though, and Zimmerman sprinkles in a number of interesting trip-hop exercises throughout the tracklist.
These moments serve as some of the best parts of the album, proving that the deadmau5 formula works regardless of rhythmic preference. It’s a shame W:/2016Album didn’t devote more of its runtime to this type of material, though; for instance, “Deus Ex Machina” could painlessly be substituted with “Hyperlandia,” a stronger track that was heard in the months leading up to the LP’s release.
Deadmau5 was very vocal in his criticisms of W:/2016Album ahead of its release, and while we’re presented with some of the best material in his career to this point, his frustrations are understandable when the album is listened to in full. For starters, every track was previously heard before it dropped, which just weakens the impact of a new release. While there are a lot of top notch progressive house tunes here, their presence tends to feel a bit safe and the album would benefit from a bit more diversity. It’s too bad W:/2016Album was so rushed, as it comes at a time when the album format is thriving in electronic music. That being said, it’s a much more digestible package than its two disc predecessor. It does work as a collection, but fans who listen to the record straight through will probably represent a minority.
While W:/2016Album sees deadmau5’s well established signatures employed on some of their best examples yet, as an album it does fall a bit flat of expectations considering the intense anticipation surrounding it. This really is only a minor concern in the grand scheme of things though, as most listeners will pick the album apart for its best bits, of which there are plenty. There’s not much new ground broken but the music is solid, and the under-utilized experimental edge present on the LP hint towards some interesting possibilities for deadmau5 moving forward. Perhaps next time he really will manage to put together the perfect album.
The anticipated new deadmau5 record, W:/2016Album, ranks as a solid offering that falls just short of its expectations. Despite arriving in a mixed package, the new outing boasts some of the producer's best work to date and signals a strong end of the year for dance music.