When the going gets weird…
Once or twice in the space of an aeon, something or someone enters the musical multiverse that is so completely bizarre that you’re not sure whether it’s absolutely amazing or a cunningly complex joke. Something so completely unprecedented, you’re left flummoxed, without any point of reference to quantify or explain it. So it was with me when I first heard the inscrutable Connan Mockasin. My first response was probably something along the lines of ‘Aiee! My ears, they burn! But with pleasure?!…’, or one of my other standard catchphrases. Safe to say, however, that this freaky Kiwi is one very weird dude. A classically-trained, psychedelic prog-pop space-jazz prankster from the planet Bwuhh? Consequently, I’ve grown rather fond of whatever it is he does, and his charmingly bonkers new album, ‘Forever Dolphin Love’.
Basically, if you like your music to be beamed at you from the other side of Strange, this is the album for you. You may as well file your Flaming Lips and Deerhoof records under ‘Easy Listening’ and give them to your Grandma now. This is uneasy listening, a queasy, throbbing, wobbly splurge of sound overseen by a schizoid musical pixie. In the absence of any better explanation, ‘Forever Dolphin Love’ sounds like the soundtrack to a kids’ movie about a psychotic mermaid, directed by David Lynch. Yep, it’s that good.
It’s clear Mockasin is a man of many mysterious talents and divergent interests, coalescing curiously on this album. A simple scan through the track titles should be enough to assure you you’ve booked in for the full magical mystery tour. For starters, what do you make of ‘It’s Choade My Dear’, ‘Quadropuss Island’, or ‘Please Turn Me Into The Snat’? What is a Snat? Do I really want to know? It’s probably safest not to ask questions and simply enjoy the music.
The first thing that strikes you is Mockasin’s androgynous voice, an elfin squeak that rides the upper registers, harmonising with itself and generally coating everything with an even deeper layer of magic dust. Lyrically, it’s hard to imagine anything more cryptic. If you approach this record feeling secure in the assumption that it was created by human agency, a rather powerful feeling of doubt will probably begin as soon as Mockasin opens his mouth.
Wisely, he chooses to begin with what passes for one of the album’s more conventional moments. Following a brace of alien voices greeting their master, ‘Megumi The Milky Way Above’ sets off as a lilting, harmonious strumathon, peppered with jungle sounds, busy percussion and that voice. Melodious and warm, it still resonates with a certain otherness.
Compared to next track ‘It’s Choade My Dear’ (Choade? Sweet Jesus…just don’t ask, OK?), however, it plumbs the depths of normality. Taking huge chunks of 60’s/70’s psychedelia and prog, and setting them to a stoned, jazzy backbeat, like the Beatles if better drugs had been invented, including ones that improved Ringo’s drumming, it has a wonderfully tuneful arrangement, but gives the impression of having been refracted through a lunatic prism, not least due to the lyrics, vocals, odd guitar squiggles and production touches, and an underwater-y atmosphere that pervades much of the album.
Two tracks in, and I’m happily befuddled, with absolutely no preconceptions as to how the album might progress. Thankfully, the next one’s a blinder. ‘Faking Jazz Together’ rides a similar vibe to its predecessor. Mockasin’s pop ear can’t be faulted, and here he delivers a stunning, wistful guitar piece, the riff descending gracefully as his peculiar voice ascends toward the boundaries of human pitch, a bit like a blissed-out Radiohead. It becomes apparent that Connan Mockasin is a proper songsmith, albeit one determinedly and joyously unconfined by any expectations that might keep him from enjoying making his own music. Either that or he’s just plain nuts.
The tracks on ‘Forever Dolphin Love’ seem to flow seamlessly, as if by osmosis, from the start of the album to the conclusion of the palm-fronded, lazy-day sun-drenching of ‘Quadrapuss Island’. After this point, though, the album decides to slip the moorings of reality altogether and hurls itself wholeheartedly into the realms of the bizarre.
The title track serves as the album’s centrepiece, a 10-minute fantastic voyage through the wilder excesses of the Mockasin psyche. Beginning with a creepy cacophony of what sounds like ghostly children haunting a derelict music shop, it suddenly morphs into bass-powered funk-jazz, then, within seconds, psychedelic dream pop. Only after about four minutes does the theme kick in, riding a bouncing, ricocheting bass and manic drums through crazed, colourful sound shoals, again sounding like they’re being transmitted beneath the waves. It’s head-spinning, but affecting in a totally intangible way.
And it gets even stranger. Following the baroque piano interlude of ‘Muss’, ‘Egon Hosford’ is a galloping, ghoulish twist on a Morricone soundtrack, sung in an alien tongue that might be either forwards, backwards or neither at all. The shimmering, spectral synths of ‘Unicorn in Uniform’ wobble and warp, drifting in then swiftly out again, leaving you marooned in consternation amid the subsequent sprightly scrawl of ‘Grampa Moff’.
Still, even if you thought the rest of the album might somehow prepare you for anything else Mockasin throws at you, nothing could ready you for the sheer anomalous absurdity of ‘Please Turn Me Into the Snat’. Coming on like a 70’s prog band with a toy Casio keyboard and a wardrobe full of unhealthy fetishes, it finds Mockasin deploying a disturbing android sneer. By the spoken-word part in the middle I really didn’t want to know what a Snat could be, but that didn’t detract from the sheer inventiveness of the music itself.
I really couldn’t give a straightforward analysis of ‘Forever Dolphin Love’, at least not in relation to the current music world. Then again, how it fits into the grand scheme of things is immaterial. Though wilfully obscure, it is by no means impenetrable. Despite the enigmatic wrapping of riddles, Connan Mockasin has created a collection of tunes that stand up next to any of the finest psychedelic pop, beautifully conceived, masterfully played, and, above all, more original than anything released in many a long year. You can only hope his home planet is proud of him.
(Released March 28th 2011 on Phantasy/Because Music)
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. – Aristotle