Does anybody remember Sparks? The brothers Mael launched that band in Los Angeles during the early 1970s, and while I don’t think they ever had what could be described as a big following, the memory lingers. They made strange electronica and disco and rock with lyrics that were intelligent, funny, and vaguely disturbing. It was hard to know exactly what to make of Sparks, but by the end of a day, their songs had some dance-floor whump to them.
I’m reminded of Sparks whenever I listen to Mouse on Mars: same comedy, cliché-bashing, and approach to the making of disco-ish songs that feel as if they are sucking a listener down through an aural tube and into a weird new space. That Mouse on Mars can do that better than their predecessors has got to be due in part to the extraordinary advances in technology made during the 20 years following Sparks. Otherwise, that’s pretty much all that separates the bands: two decades and a continent, give or take.
Ron and Russell Mael bear no resemblance to each other but are indeed brothers. Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma, from Germany, are not brothers but claimed once to have been born on the same day in the same hospital. Like Sparks, the Deutsch laptop artists seem to have an eccentric sexual fixation. Russell Sparks dressed glam crossover and literally sang in a woman’s falsetto; Mouse on Mars’ first disc is titled Vulvaland and the video put little mouths in place of women’s naughty bits. But Sparks could lock into a rocking groove, and I keep waiting for MOM to do the same. Instead, they come with the cascades of chirps and burps set to a machine beat. Nothing resolves in this music, which becomes a major part of the setup for their elaborate video comedies. Minus the images, the humor may be lost on the club crowd. We’ll see.
Xover opens the show.
Mouse on Mars: Soda Bar, Friday, February 15, 8:30 p.m. 619-255-7224. $16 advance/$18 door.