µ-Ziq's 1997 album "Lunatic Harness" was dance music for people too dizzy to dance. Producer Mike Paradinas punched up rhythm tracks that reinvented themselves on the fly, rattling like hyper-agitated spray cans and breaking into spontaneous James Brown impressions; the underlying melodies waltzed woozily, like symphonies composed on an Atari console, forming patterns as stately and ingenious as cathedral architecture.
Between then and now, the absurdly prolific Paradinas -- "µ-Ziq," pronounced "mu-zeek," is just one of his many handles -- has released records as Slag Boom Van Loon, Tusken Raiders and Kid Spatula, and remixed musicians like Björk, Whale and Mogwai. But on listening to µ-Ziq's fifth long-player, the forbiddingly weird "Royal Astronomy," I'm still not convinced Paradinas didn't spend the last 16 months marooned on an asteroid, breathing nothing but classical gas. Or maybe that's Glass: A lot of the clunky chamber music that dominates "Astronomy" echoes minimalist Philip's think-piece score for the film "Koyaanisqatsi," or the austere, dopey accompaniment that his cartoon avatar provided for South Park's nondenominational Christmas pageant. To paraphrase Chuck D, this µ-Ziq weighs a ton.
Loping string-section soliloquies like "Slice" and "Gruber's Mandolin" might go down easier if they shared space with more compelling material. Instead, we get goofy, unremarkable glosses on hip-hop (the scratch-heavy "The Hwicci Song"), vintage acid house ("Autumn Acid") and drum 'n' bass ("Carpet Muncher," and "The Motorbike Track," originally a Tusken Raiders single, hooked around a sample of an indignant DJ Premier). Jagged and wearying, "Astronomy"'s saving grace is its first single, the disarmingly lovely "The Fear," where vocalist Kazumi croons like Tracey Thorn on a ghost-busting mission, and Paradinas watches her back, marshaling a drum beat that's pure power pop. Nearly everything else is too dull to handle or too cold to hold.