Jacob’s Mouse nibbled at a smorgasbord of genres but never really sank their teeth into any one. One minute, the trio from Bury St. Edmunds cranked out a dub groove; the next, they were doing 90 in a school zone leaving a cloud of burnt rubber, skid marks and hundreds of frightened kids. But every second, the Mouse breathed a frenetic intensity and ingenuity reminiscent of early Pixies. Formed in ’87 (when the three childhood friends were all of sixteen), Jacob’s Mouse boasts one of the most adept singing drummers on record. Sam Marsh can pound out intricate fills and instigate time changes while spurting out Raw Power-styled vocals. Bassist Jebb Boothby completes an impeccable rhythm section, while Jebb’s twin brother Hugo serves up an equally potent platter of fat, ’70s guitar licks and Seattlized distortion. Together they produce a mesh of sinuous Fugazi-type grooves, Mudhoney-style tattered pop and Captain Beefheart-like quirky surprises — an unlikely combination for rural Britons.
Despite their tender age, the threesome dabbles in a mosaic of musical styles on The Dot EP. “Enterprise” is as ragged and raucous as the MC5. “Hey Dip Sugar” is a frenzied spiral of energy, and the band keeps that puissance tightly wound on “Ho-Hum.” In just five songs, the Mouse establishes itself with striking maturity and magnetic force. No Fish Shop Parking taps into the same elements as The Dot, but tests out an even more diverse, unabashed scramble of musical modes — all in just 30 minutes. At the root is a heavy rock influence (à la Sabbath and other rock dinosaurs), but Jacob’s Mouse tosses trippy echoes onto the vocals of “Tumbleswan,” a rockabilly beat on “Caphony” and a frantic blitz on “Justice.” A hint of Fugazi funk also surfaces on “Carfish,” presaging a sound that grew more prominent on subsequent records. The highlight is “Company News,” the band’s poppiest venture, complete with handclaps and an almost danceable beat. The lyrics (when audible) aren’t always exactly uplifting: “A Place to Go To” is about death, and “She Is Dead” makes a mantra of the title.
Although I’m Scared kicks off with straight-ahead groove-based rock, it’s quickly evident (on the third track, “This Room”) that a few more musical textures have slipped into the mix. The cut brings together psychedelic synth sounds and rhythms heavy enough for a booming system; then guitars cut in and Sam sings about the sickness of mind and body. To the band’s credit, all the seemingly disparate pieces fit together. The Mouse also toys with reggae and hip-hop rhythms (“Body Shop”) and even dips into tribal drum grooves on “Coalmine Dig.” Still, the majority of the album is as charged as a pile of firecrackers in a lightning storm. The CD also features all three tracks from Ton Up, a single released shortly before I’m Scared.
Wryly Smilers, a compilation of singles that followed I’m Scared, further accentuates the trio’s divergent tastes. “Biz Marmite” is an odd montage of whispers and hushed sounds; a distorted guitar whir and hammering bass power “Fandango Widewheels”; a sampled British woman speaks through the musical din on “Sag Bag.” Again, the emphasis is on razor-edged rock — there’s even a trace of White Zombie on “Group of 7.”
The band’s final release, Rubber Room, again ventures into new territory. The first track, “Kuff Prang,” fuses cool jazz with puncturing rock; the synth sound on “Foam Face” recalls Suicide. Jacob’s Mouse digs one of its deepest funk grooves on “Public Oven,” but also offers the introspective “Domestic,” which jumps abruptly from acoustic quiet to a wall of noise — an extremely abridged Metallica epic of sorts. Although more disjointed than I’m Scared, the album is no less powerful, further proof that Jacob’s Mouse — a band that split up in its prime — could master any genre and give it a distinct twist.