Connan Mockasin – Jassbusters

Jassbusters is New Zealand born Connan Mockasin’s third record, not including his side project with Sam Dust, Soft Hair, and one which sees him retain his crown as king of crooning. Recorded in 2016, it was only released last Friday (12th October) via Mexican Summer. A first of its kind for the artist in many ways, Jassbusters was recorded with a band, as well as being paired with a five part melodrama film, Bostyn ’n Dobsyn. The project spent 20 years in development – but took just 10 days to film. His work is so spectacularly peculiar, it seems only right that it spills onto the screen; and the first screening will be at the Barbican next month.

For now, the music video for ‘Con Conn Was Impatient’ (the name alone a cringe-worthy cutesy insight into the premise of the film) is just enough to whet your pallet for what’s to come. Using that phrase when talking about this album made me feel complicit in the cringeyness, but I’m going for it anyway. The video is naive looking and kinda creepy. The costumes are comically and purposefully low budget (ill fitting wigs and badly drawn facial hair), and the whole thing is shot under blue lighting – with the overall effect being a bit like Twin Peaks meets adult films; adult films about a totally inappropriate parent/teacher relationship, with literally zero budget.

There are elements of The Room in there too (see the fade out facial close-ups that linger for a purposefully uncomfortable amount of time). That it’s done knowingly, satirically, with bad costumes and strange camera work, only takes the edge off slightly. If you enjoy straddling the knife edge between obscure and disturbing, this one’s for you: off kilter pop at its best; catchy dreamy melodies gone askew.

Kicking off with the opening track, ‘Charlotte’s Thong’, it’s subtle, sultry and strange, all done with a straight face. The whole album is based upon a mixture of Mockasin’s obvious talents: smooth and funky song-writing, hand-in-hand with absurdities. Second track, ‘Momos’, gets into the more eerie, psychedelic sound we’ve come to expect. The first few bars sound like they crept off Thom Yorke’s latest sound-track release: moody but eventually unveiling a few more ‘Mockasinisms’. The vocals, by James Blake, remove the listener from the wildly weird world Connan creates and dumps us straight back into the usual. Which makes us even more grateful when we land back into the next track ‘Last Night’.

This is where the story-telling, concept album side of things kicks in properly. It sounds like the echo of a night club, or music hall, with Connan’s gentle singing in the distance and snatches of dialogue in the foreground. His familiarly strange vocals, kinda falsetto at times, comically low at others, lurk beside a funky as hell bass line.

Connan plays with sound in a way that’s entirely unique to himself. It’s an experimental approach that gives the album depth, makes it peculiar, sexy and a little bit confusing, in a way that’s completely great. The end of ‘You Can Do Anything’ – “You can do anything to get good greats,” – sounds a little bit like an excerpt from a porno, it’s literally impossible to imagine the person speaking not rocking a luxuriant black moustache. Please, I dare you to try.

Each track has its own identity, but being the product of one spooky brain gives it a degree of consistency. The album is a mixed bag of oddities, the writer’s imagination is spectacularly unhinged, though sensible enough to carry a narrative. ‘Les Be Honest’ closes the album nicely, it’s dreamy, easy, but has a good amount of creepy. To truly grasp what ‘the right amount of creepy is’, this is probably the best place to start.

Annie Roberts