Now this is an odd bird.
In 2005, self-released, “leaked” music was beginning to be endorsed by the artists that recorded it. For them, the dissemination and enjoyment of the music was more important than profits. It also gave them anti-establishment cache. Put simply, The Mouse And the Mask was one of the first records to be a surprise success on both sides of the market, sneakily streamed on a website and gaining enough traction to earn a physical release, and then a public phenomenon.
In another sense, this record represents the commodification of trends and cross-promoting that had existed in music for decades. Unlike TV characters on lunchboxes, or toys based on video games, this was a merger that had an artistic (and very unorthodox) basis. Besides being a one-off team-up for wunderkind producer Danger Mouse and reclusive genius MF DOOM, it includes skits and lyrical themes referring to cartoons produced by the cable network block called Adult Swim, which was an early-2000s home for bizarre, obscene and silly animation.
Now, in the interest of fairness, I like most of the shows they aired, and have an affinity for their niche-y brand of nihilistic, absurd humor. But the record would still hold up without them, purely as music. (It definitely fulfills my highest hopes for a record, that it is dynamic and concise.)
However, the vibe and attitude this combination creates is singular. The literate and relatively classy music of the off-kilter tunes contrasts very memorably with recurring interludes and sketches starring the most iconic, recognizable characters from Adult Swim shows. Space Ghost, Master Shake, Brak, and the Sealab crew all make appearances, sometimes enacting comedy routines with DOOM. It’s so bold and blatant a crossover that it actually works wonderfully. It doesn’t hurt that the musicians’ skewed sensibilities gel perfectly with these gonzo oddballs.
Not to give all the credit to cartoon sound bites, because MF DOOM really is supremely unique and talented, as is Danger Mouse. On their own, they’d be notable but not quite worthy of “true innovation” status, but with the crossover, I’d say this LP definitely qualifies. If you like this, I would also suggest checking out the superlative, idiosyncratic Madvillainy. Or as a long shot, look into the purposefully ugly and bizarre, but fitfully brilliant and lovely pop culture mashup record Mouth Silence by internet humor darling Neil Cicierega. These guys dictated what internet culture and modern “awkward” humor could do when applied to music.
Key track: “The Mask”
See also: Madvillainy – Madvillain (2004), Mouth Silence – Neil Cicierega (2014)