Mouse on the Keys

A fusion of rhythmically pulsating minimalism evocative of Philip Glass and the hard-hitting dynamism of jazz, electronic and post-rock styles is perhaps a good way to describe Mouse on the Keys, an exciting and musically challenging nu-jazz trio from Tokyo.

One can draw similarities to them and the UK’s Neil Cowley Trio (for their exploration of colourful harmonies and continuously varying drum line), or the heavy groove of Achim Seifert Project from Germany. Despite sharing stylistic commonalities with other global groups, Mouse on the Keys are unparalleled for the sheer volume of effort and to an extent, muscle they put into their creative enterprise.

The ability to push and pull the harmony, texture, and rhythm is the most impressive thing about Mouse on the Keys. Their EP, Machinic Phylum is a 4-part musical drama that reflects their ability to command the pace and intensity of their sonic domain. ‘Aom’ and ‘Plateau’ radiate forces of rhythmic energy with cyclical piano phrases and their energetic trademark drum beats, while occasionally pulling back the propulsion to make way for ornate minimalist piano solos. ‘Clinamen’ is like an interlude that gives the occasional space for the bass and synths to take a more prominent role. Being the concluding act, and the least musically dynamic, ‘Memory’ is the unsung hero of this EP. The heavenly opening from the main piano riff and iridescent synth harmonies sets the tone for the other instruments. A rhythmically diluted drum and bass accompanies the enchanting, crystalline piano layer, only to end with a polyrhythmic Bach fugue-like phrase, which is perhaps a subtle reminder to the listener of what originally made them a force to be reckoned with.

This Japanese trio are recognised globally not only through their successful international tours, but through their reputation as an artist working with various art forms (e.g. visual installation, film projections, lighting work). This live version of ‘Completed Nihilism’ and ‘Spectres de mouse’ synthesises monochrome, but equally intense abstract imagery with merciless percussive and pianistic textures that fluctuate from gentle cymbal and arpeggio ripples to precision-engineered rhythmic complexity and mathematical harmonic progressions, in an effort to submerge the audience into musical and visual euphoria.

The above songs open their 2009 album An Anxious Object. Regardless of the fact that the titles of each track sounds very abstract and conceptual, the substance is overflowing with a myriad of sensations: groovy piano and percussion in ‘Forgotten Children’ and ‘Unflexible Grids’, sleek reverberant ambience of ‘Ouroboros’ and bright jazzy nuances from ‘Seiren’. From the opening sporadic chordal hits of ‘Dirty Realism’, it is evident that some influences of contemporary classical/post-minimalism have also slipped into the records’ tonal palette, as it sounds similar to Louis Andriessen’s piece Hoketus.

Mouse on the Keys are a musical powerhouse. Its relentless percussion line, varicoloured harmonies, mechanistic piano textures, jazzy but also dissonant and angular improvisatory melodies and rhythms, and their strong visual presence has the energy to sustain a common momentum, and invite the audience into total sonic and visual immersion.

Other Listening:

  • Sezession EP
  • The Arctic Fox
  • The Flowers of Romance (Album)

© Isaku Takahashi