The jazz-influenced Tokyo post-rock trio Mouse on the Keys was one of a number of challenging Japanese bands that came to prominence in the latter half of the first decade of the twenty-first century, bands that would probably never even have been signed in the West, far less marketed as pop music. Cerebral, literate and influenced as much by philosophy and art as by music, their astounding, technically complex, yet emotionally affecting work showed just what could be done with only two keyboards and a drum kit.
Mouse on the Keys was formed in 2006 by drummer/keyboardist/composer Akira Kawasaki and keyboardist Atsushi Kiyota, former members of the indie rock band Nine Days Wonder, which had released albums on US indie label Dim Mak. Named for the song "Kitten On The Keys" by ragtime composer Zez Confrey, their intention was to combine the aggression and intensity of hardcore punk with artistic piano compositions inspired by jazz, contemporary classical, the work of Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube, and the well-known Ryuichi Sakamoto. The band was also conceived partly as an installation art project, and its live performances were always accompanied by film projections incorporating footage of Tokyo, landscapes, and computer-generated abstract imagery.
Initially, the band comprised just the two members (and guitarist/saxophonist Jun Nemoto as an "auxiliary" member), with Kawasaki astonishingly playing keyboard and drums simultaneously; a performance video of an unreleased song, "The Arctic Fox," showing him doing this can be found on YouTube. Their early shows caught the attention of fellow Japanese post-rock band Toe, whom they so impressed that they insisted on signing them to their own label Machu Picchu Industrias, which they had originally set up to release only their own music. In 2007 the duo recorded and released their debut EP Sezession, with members of Toe involved in the engineering and production.
The next year the band toured Japan to promote the release and also took on two new members. Projectionist Keisuke Ikeda was hired to take care of the band's increasingly complex video imagery, and the addition of keyboardist Daisuke Niitome — who had composed for funk and hip-hop bands — allowed Kawasaki to focus on drums, affording him much greater freedom behind the kit. This new line-up allowed the band's unique sound to really come into its own and that October, they played their highest-profile gig to date, at the Nagisa Music Festival.
Their 2009 debut full-length album, An Anxious Object, named after a quote about modern art by critic Harold Rosenberg, was a conceptual work, partially inspired by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, that focused on notions of contemporary Tokyo and the sense of alienation it engendered. A bold, confident release that represented a big step forward for the band, it led to a deal with the German label Denovali, which issued both of their records in Europe in early 2010. The band then undertook two successful European tours, after which they set to work on a new mini-album. ~ John D. Buchanan