The French name to the contrary, Mikel Rouse originally formed his trio in Kansas City, relocating it to New York in 1979. As a singer, Rouse shows promise, but Etudes borrows far too much from early Talking Heads to be accused of originality and is rhythmically monotonous to boot. Following a Belgian LP release, Tirez Tirez released a 12-inch on Sire before finding an American label to put out the group’s third album.
Except for bass (credit James Bergman), Rouse sings and plays (keyboards, guitars, drum programs) Social Responsibility singlehandedly; he wrote all nine songs and co-produced it as well. Not surprisingly, there’s a certain sluggish insularity to the music, an audible lack of human interaction. But when Rouse’s over-educated structuralism succumbs to the uplifting pop momentum, Tirez makes for attractive, intelligent listening.
Against All Flags is the first Tirez Tirez record to feature a full band, and the difference in feel (not to mention the filled-out sound) is immediately apparent. Rouse’s writing here shows as much heart as craft, and the result is a batch of very engaging tunes that are still compositionally rigorous. A great pop record.
Rouse also records with a forward-thinking chamber quartet, Broken Consort. Jade Tiger shares definite affinities with the work of Steve Reich, and features a snappy but mellifluous soprano sax sound that has unfortunately been appropriated by the new age crowd. Later Broken Consort records — A Walk in the Woods and A Lincoln Portrait — find Rouse growing bolder and more intricate in his compositions. While he’s a composer of undeniable and substantial gifts, his work has gotten lost in the crossdrifts of contemporary classical music, not really bare-boned enough to be called minimal and too easy on the ears to attract the attention of the academic crowd. (Initially released by Belgium’s Crammed Discs as part of its Made to Measure series, A Walk in the Woods was joined on CD with Colorado Suite, Rouse’s joint album with Tuxedomoon violinist Blaine L. Reininger.)
Released under his own name on his own Club Soda label, Quorum is an interesting but extremely dry solo composition for Linndrum.