When Virgin announced that Danger Mouse would be collaborating with Damon Albarn for Gorillaz' spring '05 album, Demon Days, it seemed like an inevitable pairing, and not just because both parties fancied themselves cartoon characters. 2004's The Grey Album, DM's pairing of Jay-Z's Black Album and the Beatles' White Album, demonstrated a skill for middlebrow bump that brought to mind none other than Dan the Automator, the beatmaker whose board work on 2001's Gorillaz enabled that album to worm its way into ubiquity. As he had with Kool Keith on 1996's Dr. Octagon project, Automator brought just enough ideas to jolt Albarn's sleepy hooks, but not enough to show them up, creating the kind of record your dorm buds could call "weird" and your mom could nod along to. Surprisingly, though, Demon Days was more like a beat-happy sequel to Blur's introspective 13 than the Cute Stoners with Hooks, Part Two affair skeptics were expecting, and Danger Mouse's impressionistic but detailed production had a lot to do with it.
The Mouse and the Mask, the California producer's new collaboration with fellow animated character MF Doom, is a lot closer to what one might have expected the second Gorillaz album to sound like: carefree but not sloppy, goofy but not inane, lightweight but that's okay. It's also a crass tie-in with Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" lineup, and if they'd really wanted to go for the crossover ring they could have packaged it with an economy-sized bag of Cheetos and the cell number of a reliable dealer. Doom's monotone flow can disguise the pure pleasure he takes in language, not to mention a sensibility that matches Kool Keith for weirdness without trying nearly as hard. But Doom has seldom been this loopy: "They've been asking for him to release some new tracks/But only got confronted by the beast with two backs" ("Sofa King"), or try "Now we'll be right back after these messages/Fellas grab your nutsacks, chicks squeeze your breastesses" ("Old School," featuring a frisky Talib Kweli).
The music similarly sneaks up on you. On "Sofa King," Danger Mouse cuts up a violin figure with more brio than he mustered for an entire 96-minute Beatles album, and the woozy chimes of "Basket Case" are goofier and spookier than a crate of Ninja Tune 12-inches. Spin-offs seldom play this well in reruns.
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