Album Review: Connan Mockasin - Jassbusters
New Zealand’s Connan Mockasin has always leaned hard on his own unique weirdness, since emerging at the start of the decade. Over the time between now and then, artistic exports from New Zealand have become far more common, and the nation’s idiosyncratic brand of humour has become widely known through the works of the likes of Taika Waititi. In the wake of these successes, Mockasin’s music seems less unusual and more just a product of his upbringing in the antipodes and later exposure to more culture from Asia and beyond. There is always usually some kind of unlikely backstory or inspiration for Connan behind his albums, but his third, Jassbusters, it seems he’s channelled that all into his 5-part film drama Bostyn ‘n Dobsyn - and it leaves Jassbusters somewhat trailing in its wake.
While Bostyn ‘n Dobsyn can boast an intoxicating storyline of a music teacher and his student starting a band together, Jassbusters is supposed to be the album made by the film’s protagonists, and unfortunately can often veer towards music as uninspired as what an actual worn-down music teacher might create. It’s not a bombastic record, as it easily could have been – after all, he had complete creative control over what the film would be and what kind of music his characters would make. Instead of going for something ecstatic or unusual, Mockasin is musically following largely the same paths that he worked with on his LP, Caramel; dreamy, laid back and smooth songs. Whereas Caramel, from album cover and throughout the sounds within, hewed towards lounge singer style and aplomb, Jassbusters comes from a more lovelorn and unkempt source. Opening track ‘Charlotte’s Thong’ introduces us into the lustful and desirous mindset of the album, but over the course of 8 minutes it only seems to swim around with the fantasy of the thong, and doesn’t actually get close to undressing the object of obsession.
Getting James Blake in to sing on second track ‘Momo’s’ seems like a stroke of genius, as his inimitably emotive voice matches the peaks and troughs of Mockasin’s dejected soul perfectly. However, his appearance is so poignant that it casts a shadow over the rest of the album. Mockasin’s voice is absolutely no match for his, and he hasn’t made the songs on Jassbusters weird or unique enough to emphasise the unusual register that he possesses. ‘Last Night’ might start with the sound of squeaking balloons and a suggestive clip from Bostyn ‘n Dobson, but then follows a pretty linear path in attempting to produce a seductive soliloquy – but when he emotively sings “last night you blew me away,” his voice is grating, and not in a cute way.
On the rest of the album, only the stripped-down slacker rock of ‘Con Conn Was Impatient’ really stands out, with just enough swing, structure and lightly luminous keys to make it an uncomplicated delight. ‘B’nD’ features tickling blues in a recumbent coast along groove, but the only vocals featured are clips from Bostyn ‘n Dobsyn, practically turning it into a mid-album trailer. In other areas he shows hints of inspiration by entwining his richly beige rock with Pacific instrumentation, to great effect, but never seems to guide the songs to anywhere particularly memorable.
Jassbusters is an unusual album in that it’s not quite unusual enough. We know that Connan Mockasin is a man full of idiosyncratic dreams, and his past solo work and collaborative projects have shown that he is unafraid to be bombastic. The idea of him making a 5-part film and a soundtrack supposedly created by the characters within said film is potentially a great one – but somehow the spark doesn’t seem to have lit quite right. He needn’t have written a completely different album, there’s plenty of minor delights in the sound of Jassbusters, it seems he just needed to let his freak flag fly a little more and give us some truly unforgettable moments.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 24th October 2018.