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Sunday, 23 September 2012

Danger Doom - The Mask and the Mouse (2005)

During my student days, I watched a lot of cartoons: shows like The Critic, King of the Hill and Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast. We would sit around on battered sofas in the sitting room of our disgusting student house, eat our body-weights in bad kebabs and Pringles, drink cheap bottles of supermarket beer, and watch dodgy VHS copies or imported DVDs of hard-to-find gems.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force was probably my favourite cartoon from this era. The premise of the show was that anthropomorphic fast food items lived in a house together in New Jersey and were meant to solve crime (though this last part was quickly dropped after about two or three episodes). There was Master Shake, a six-foot tall carton of milkshake who was an obnoxious bastard; Meatwad was a ball of mincemeat full of naivety and childish wonder; and Frylock, a floating box of fries with laser-beam eyes, was the brains of the operation.

Each episode featured increasingly surreal and disturbing characters: the two-dimensional Mooninites, Ignignokt and Err, who had a penchant for petty crime-sprees and held a corrupting influence over Meatwad; MC Pee Pants, a giant rapping spider in a nappy who tried to get his listeners hooked on candy in order to power a giant drill; and Lance Potter, a duck made out of used condoms which magically comes alive. The show was characterised by bizarre plotlines, and humour that flitted between the chaotic and the surreal, and inspired producer Dangermouse and MF Doom to produce the hip-hop concept album The Mouse and the Mask under the name of Danger Doom, which features skits and vocals from the Aqua Teen Hunger Force cast.

Before the album gets started, we hear the voice of Brak (of the Brak Show and Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast fame) asking us: “Why did you buy this album? I don't know why you did, you're stupid.” - I have to disagree.

We see from the opening track ‘El Chupa Nibre’ that The Mouse and the Mask is firmly entrenched in cartoon lore (El Chupanibre being the name of giant sewer monster in Futurama); the track is fun and bounces around a funky break-beat and a sample which sounds a little bit like Gizmo’s singing from the film Gremlins. ‘Sofa King’ builds around an awesome violin sample by Don Harper and another excellent break-beat and pulsing bass-line, ending with an encouragement to read the following out loud: I am "Sofa King, We Todd Ed". ‘The Mask’ keeps the funk going with a fanfare of horns bursting over the off-beat drum styling of artists like DJ Shadow. ‘Perfect Hair’ slows things down and the beats get a little more fractured, sounding more and more like some of the more downbeat moments on the soundtrack to the film Dark Days, but unlike Dark Days, the track retains the air of warmth and positivity you get from tracks like the Avalanches’ ‘Since I Left You’. The closing moments of the track feature a cameo from Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s own Master Shake in the form of an answer phone message pleading with Doom to answer his emails and calls, and allow him to feature on the album. ‘Benzie Box’ verges into G-Funk territory with a track whose bass-heavy synth lines could easily feature on some of Snoop Dogg’s mid-90s efforts. It’s a great track, and Cee-Lo’s vocals add a really nice harmonic quality to the chorus. ‘Old Skool’ featuring Talib Kweli brings us back to the funky fanfare of ‘The Mask’, with Kweli’s blistering vocals adding a shot of energy to the proceedings. ‘A.T.H.F.’ begins with a daft little skit with some banter between Aqua Teen Hunger force’s Meatwad and his long-suffering neighbour, Carl. The track, as the title suggests, is a homage to Aqua Teen Hunger Force, with lyrics like:

Switch your view to the brother with the fried dreads
Not to be confused with the incense selling thai heads
His name rhymes with Mike-Cock
You could call him livewire, eye sockets, Frylock
Able to shoot electricity through his eyeballs
And blast all through your single sided brick and drywall
More interesting than professional wrestling
When he's online, you can find him on Instant Pestering

‘Basket Case’ continues the cartoon homage theme, having samples from the episode of Harvey Birdman where Shaggy and Scooby Doo are arrested on suspicion of driving while under the influence of drugs. ‘Vats of Urine’ features rolling beats and jazz trumpets overlaid with a twiddling bass-line and laid-back vocals, close in sound to left-field rapper Edan. Album-closer ‘Bada Bing’ is another downbeat piece of music that seems to nod towards the early-90s Bristol scene. Indeed, it is not too far a stretch to imagine Beth Gibbons’ tortured vocals gliding over the mix.

I wrote recently about the dreaded hip-hop skit, and how they often add nothing to an album. Danger Doom skits all fit in with the concerns of the original album concept. This isn’t as serious or revealing as some of Doom’s other work, but it is a very good album with some excellent beats and extraordinary rapping. Definitely a keeper.

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Anonymous said...

Under-rated album, glad to see you feature it. Good review

seher aniat said...

This would go beautifully with my Day of the Dead collection!
wrestling mask

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