Mice Parade has gradually, insidiously, grown since its inception as the solo project of New York’s Adam Pierce in the late ’90s. These days, it is much more of a collaborative effort – something of a collective perhaps – with guest vocalists and contributing musicians from around the world. Impressively, the project has maintained a remarkable consistency and quality control over two decades now. Mice Parade albums arrive at dependable intervals, usually without much of a fanfare, and are always engaging. Developments in Mice Parade’s sound have rendered them at once more accessible and more esoteric.
What It Meant To Be Left-Handed pushes them further into indie-rock territory at times, whilst also drawing in further influences from the world of electronic music and from West Africa especially. More than ever, Pierce is completely uninterested in neat genre categorisations.
Given the number of bands now looking to Mali or Nigeria for inspiration (Dirty Projectors, Vampire Weekend et al), it’s increasingly hard to absorb these influences honestly and distinctively. Yet Pierce has his own fiercely percussive, attacking qualities that make his attempts sound genuine and effortless. Even more impressive is the nimble, adroit way he fuses these influences with his own sophisticated flamenco guitar playing. At its best, What It Means To Be Left-Handed demonstrates how much can be achieved within the confines of the indie-rock genre, simply by foregrounding unexpected elements. The drums play an integral role and the guitar playing provides texture and feeling rather than a basic background rhythm. Pierce also makes imaginative use of a range of vocalists.
It’s arguable that Pierce sequences the album with its finest moments placed squarely in its first half. There’s the delicate, extremely pretty Kupanda, in which acoustic and electric guitars effortlessly intertwine with Abdou’s majestic kora. Swahili vocalist Somi adds a gently drifting, understated melody. Perhaps even better is the dense and euphoric In Between Times, a song with anthemic qualities but with tremendous invention and subtlety in its arrangement. Do You Ever See Sparks is delightful, vulnerable and ultimately joyous, whilst the splendid Recover takes all manner of unexpected twists and turns. Pierce gleefully abandons the tired conventions of song structure.
Given this remarkable wave of creativity, some of the songs in the album’s second half come as something of a surprise. There’s the distorted power-pop of Mallo Cup and Even, on which Pierce bears a huge resemblance to Evan Dando. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with this particularly, Pierce doesn’t inhabit this world as effortlessly as Dando. Pierce appears more murky, less assured and less immediately likeable in this context. Even is pretty enough but also rather short and ultimately a bit lightweight. The more aggressive and messy Mallo Cup never quite gels. Also, these tracks sit rather uncomfortably with the dazzling ambition on display elsewhere.
This only proves to be a brief interlude, however, with Pierce’s more mischievous side returning on the dreamy, skeletal and atmospheric Tokyo Late Night. Fortune Of Folly returns to the concerns of the album’s first half, only this time with even more manic clatter. The album concludes with a low key, gloomy cover of Tom Brosseau‘s Mary Anne, a slightly odd note on which to finish. Pierce is clearly most comfortable when working in hybrid idioms that challenge preconceived indie-rock formats. When he is operating within those very constraints, the results are far less exciting. Luckily, this album tends to favour his natural operating zone.