The experimental New Zealand artist's new album is a lonely wander through a not-quite-familiar musical landscape.
When I walk around listening to Connan Mockasin's 'Caramel', I feel a little bit like time is being stretched. Sometimes the record's languorous, beatless twangs and textures lull me into a haze that seems to last for hours before its forceful moments - the deep-voiced, percussive moments at which it asserts itself - pull me back into the present, and into myself, with a jump or a shocked laugh. "It's Your Body," Mockasin tells the listener no less than five times in his track titles, but just as repeating that phrase out loud five times makes its meaning disappear, over the course of these five tracks you become not so sure that it's true.
The experimental New Zealander's second album is one that implicates its listener constantly - "you" are brought into four of the other track titles, Why Are You Crying, Do I Make You Feel Shy, I Wanna Roll With You and the elated I'm The Man, That Will Find You. By blatantly over-using the trope of writing love songs to a faceless, pedestal-mounted "you", Mockasin gives a knowing wink to his listener and invites them inside his music; when backing vocals borrowed from R&B shimmy into I Wanna Roll With You to echo the title, they're not only speaking straight to the listener in familiar cheesy sentiment but getting that sentiment straight to the core of the listener in an unshakeable catchy form. The same goes for the ecstatic chorus of I'm The Man That Will Find You, offset by rich soul harmonies and a theatrical flourish, and the offer of "I'll be the boy of your dreams" on Do I Make You Feel Shy?, delivered in one of Mockasin's least boyish voices. The listener is repeatedly thrown a rope of recognisable musical patterns, which is then always used to haul them deeper into Mockasin's psychedelic breakdowns and wry sideways glances at, or deconstructions of, pop.
It's funny, then, that in the press release for this record he says that he dislikes music that he finds to be too "aware"; rather, he says, "I just want to capture the first idea I have, which is always the most mysterious part." It's true that you could call this album cohesive (maybe even same-y) - formed predominantly from often-distorted guitars and voices, with intermittent and soft percussion, 'Caramel' uses a very similar sonic palette all the way through, mimicking the fluidity of its namesake. It would be misleading, though, to imagine that there's only one idea at work here; his compositions are completely "aware", heaping silliness and strangeness on top of musical tradition, grabbing hold of the familiar and pulling it into new shapes.
The bodily sounds on the album are its weirdest dimension, alternately embracing and confronting the listener. Take It's Your Body 1, a song that invokes the sexual connotations of every song ever with "your body" in the title, and yet opens on the sound of a woman coughing. Japanese women (whose voices appear across the entire album) actually cry throughout Why Are You Crying?, and giggle at the end of It's You Body 5, leading into the record's final track. They even pick out Mockasin by name, chanting "C-O-N-N-A-N" and calling out "thank you, Connan Mockasin!" His own spoken voice in response is a Barry White caricature, soulful and slow and impossibly, digitally deep. The body, on this album, is something that you can claim - even insist five times - that you own, but that can in fact be manipulated and taken advantage of so easily. The music carries you into trance-inducing grooves, then snaps you out of them just as easily. The figure at the centre of it all mutates constantly so that you're never entirely certain if his voice is the one you're hearing. The opening track is even called Nothing Lasts Forever. When you listen to this album thinking about vulnerability, thinking about the fact that Mockasin's father and friend were severely ill before and during the making of it, thinking about the isolation it was made in (alone in a hotel room in Japan), its distorted soul and flickers of humanity become so much darker.
'Caramel' is apparently about an onomatopoeia, Mockasin trying to translate the gooey essence of the foodstuff to music, but to me it upholds that promise in ways you totally wouldn't expect. It does it by sluggishly clinging to your limbs, making you move through life much slower than usual as if wading through caramel; it gives you the sensory shock of biting into something expecting one taste and getting another; it's something so recognisable you think of it as timeless, but presented to you in a way that exaggerates its synthetic alienness. It's an album from an artist who promises to be the boy of your dreams and the man who will find you, but who is himself so buried in exoticism and illusion that he seems like nothing more than a figment of your imagination. In its final manipulation of the listener, 'Caramel' insists on being listened to alone. I can't imagine playing this album to anyone I love; only walking around, myself and the music, as though my jaw is stuck shut from eating too much caramel and I'm trapped inside my own relative perception of time and space, a mosaic of confusing and dream-like influences and a very lonely place to be.
Phantasy Sound released 'Caramel' on the 4th November 2013.