MF Doom, Danger Mouse, and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim have each ascended to countercultural glory using the sum of popular culture as their outsized playpens, reconfiguring cartoon and comic-book iconography and/or old sounds into giddily ridiculous yet strangely fitting new arrangements. Collectively, they've transformed third-rate superheroes into attorneys and oblivious talk-show hosts, deadpan rappers with an endless reservoir of obscure pop-culture references into comic-book supervillains, and The Beatles and Jay-Z into unwitting collaborators. Separately, they've radically appropriated other people's creations to fit their own ends with the kind of brash, smartass irreverence that tends to result in obsessive cult followings, legal threats, or—in the case of Danger Mouse's The Grey Album—both.
Now these three formidable underground entities have joined forces for The Mouse And The Mask, a Saturday-morning special of absurdist humor, whimsical beats, and unabashed weirdness. Danger Mouse provides the beats and Doom the rhymes, while the cult icons and sentient meat patties of Adult Swim run amok in the margins, heckling the headliners, making bids for the spotlight, and rhapsodizing about "heartwarming but rarely amusing Ziggy cartoons." Having just provided beats for another animated bunch with the last Gorillaz album, Danger Mouse knows this territory well, and he lays down happy horns and a day-glo retro vibe for "Old School," where Doom and guest Talib Kweli trip giddily down memory lane, reminiscing about the simple pleasures of Saturday morning cartoons and sugary cereal. Danger Mouse overlaps rubbery and sci-fi synths on "Benzie Box," as Cee-Lo Green purrs an infectious chorus that could double as Doom's super-villainous theme music. Nowhere is the synthesis of Adult Swim, Doom, and Danger Mouse more insanely inspired and just plain insane than on "Sofa King," which leads the stars of Aqua Teen Hunger Force in a perversely anthemic chant of "I am Sofa King retarded." The addition of Adult Swim characters into damn near every track isn't always seamless or clever, and the album could do without "Bada Bing" or Meatwad's intentionally painful bonus-track cover of Doom's "Beef Rapp," but otherwise, this stellar collaboration threatens to give underground synergy a good name. Like Madvillainy, Danger Doom and The Mouse And The Mask both boast strangely generic titles, but they're the only lapse in imagination for this otherwise charmed project.