Deadmau5 returns with a lengthy, challenging tour de force

Joel Zimmerman, aka Deadmau5, has a rabid fan following. If you’ve ever heard him spin, you’ll know why.

Four stars

Deadmau5 While (1-2)

You can dismiss the Instagram-baiting helmet, Twitter tantrums and peer pugilism. For all the bloggorhea he inspires, Deadmau5 makes it count where it matters most: in the studio. His enviable catalog of dancefloor detonators—“Some Chords,” “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff,” “Sofi Needs a Ladder,” among others—has earned him the sort of following that other choon churners don’t enjoy because, unlike the irreverence of his public persona, his music is tangible and sincere. Though his later output has been flecked with opportunistic forays, his earlier work provokes an escapism no less rewarding in the bedroom than under the mirrorball—a phenomenon that ought to condition his loyalists, if not casual fans, for his latest studio long-player (emphasis on “long”).

Even though the two-hour-plus While(1-2) boasts some of the best tracks you’ll hear at a major club or dance festival—“Infra Turbo Pigcart Racer” merges Deadmau5’s prog mastery with Giorgio Moroder’s Italo-disco reverie—it is, like 2008’s head-turning Random Album Title, unabashedly emotive. It’s also thoroughly cerebral, contemptuous of modern dance-anthem structures and, best of all, an artistic peak for the man born Joel Zimmerman, who largely quashed lucrative gigs last year (cough, Hakkasan) to work on this 25-track epic.

The results re-route his aesthetic evolution. Instead of dubstep indulgences or sonic recycling, he focuses on ascending 4/4 meditations (“Avaritia,” “Phantoms Can’t Hang”), interpretive takes on German techno (“Mercedes”) and textural instrumentals with juxtaposing elements that nonetheless find a perplexing harmony (“Errors in My Bread”). Deadmau5 struggles with the momentum of the tracklisting, but he nails the cohesion and layering of his numerous creative itches.

If While(1-2) has an equal in the rock world, it’s the equally cinematic (and polarizing) Nine Inch Nails behemoth The Fragile. Not for nothing, two remixes of Trent Reznor’s work are thrown in here—a classic because-I-can Deadmau5 move—and their inclusion, along with the many reflective piano/glitch instrumentals, invite comparisons and hint at derivation. But the influence has also prodded a necessary soul-searching for an artist who could have coasted on his bankable assets. On the contrary, while the geeky title of this deliciously challenging work suggests Deadmau5 is stuck in a loop, he’s anything but.

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