Connan Mockasin’s “Caramel”
Some of the best things can’t be explained.
When I first heard Connan Mockasin, my immediate thought was “Okay, this guy has to be on something.” Which in hindsight is insulting to say, as if someone can’t create strange and wonderful music without tripping (supposedly, he only has small amounts of white whine). Whatever it is, there’s no denying there is something alluring about Conn-Conn.
Any attempts to describe his sound would be something akin to Psychedelica-on-Benadryl, but it still wouldn’t do him justice. Though he is compared to other artists, those who share his eccentricities are few and far between. His sonic palette consists of effects-laden guitars blending together in a soupy mix. Instead of affronting the listener, he prefers them to be played down a little more quietly. Rarely do you ever hear his vocals untreated, as he randomly and unexpected pitches his voice to helium-like levels or bring them to low baritone, well beyond his vocal range. To put it plainly, his sound doesn’t bust open the doors and makes itself known; it just materializes from thin air and then dissipates back into the ether from whence it came, leaving behind some enchantment and confusion.
The front door to Mr. Mockasin’s world is his first solo release, Forever Dolphin Love, a collection of songs that resembled a cartoonish fever dream with lyrics that seemed to tell an undecipherable narrative. But despite it’s way-the-fuck-out-there sound, it’s easy to see why this would be the starting point for new fans.
My entry point, however, was with his second release Caramel, his take on trying to be flirty. An album that has a je ne sais quoi factor, being hard to pin down what makes me keep coming back to it. Maybe it was because it caught me off-guard or because I have an affinity for musicians who seemingly don’t make sense to others. I imagine it’s the same reasons it hooked anyone else. Either way, it doesn’t disappoint, and is something that can’t be cherry-picked through.
Unlike FDL, Connan isn’t telling stories about men falling in love with dolphins or a snake-rat hybrid.
This time, he’s wooing us. You can see that in the first two tracks off the album, “Nothing Lasts Forever”, which is a direct reference to his last album, and the title track. “Nothing…” whisks away the detritus of the past, and clears room for the new sound: gloopy guitars and sensual overtones. Instead of floating in a dusky stratosphere, we’re swimming through gloopy guitar textures and greasy bass. But things get more upbeat when we’re introduced to “Caramel”, as Connan clears his voice (albeit with some seriously heavy Barry-White filter) and plays against a shimmering guitar riff to let us know he sees us, and he’s about to take us for a ride. We’re not sure where, but that’s the fun of it.
Our journey really begins with “I’m the Man (That Will Find You)” and “Do I Make You Feel Shy,” the clear singles from the album that still fit in perfectly with main concept. ”I’m the Man” is Connan serenading you in his own alien way. “Do I Make You Feel Shy?” continues this, although more coyly and with a little more mystique. Inarguably, these are the best two tracks and both deliver two sides of Connan that could get anyone’s attention, which is why some would find the rest of the album frustrating, as things start to get a little too strange.
“Why Are You Crying?” comes in with, oddly enough, a girl crying and is then accompanied by a sultry jam session. It would make a great instrumental track to sink into, except the crying girl returns at the end, with our main man telling her to “just stop it now.” Not necessarily a bad idea for song, but an awkward one that’s awkwardly placed. The trip, however, really goes nuts throughout the next five tracks; all titled “It’s Your Body.”
The first part of this five-track suite takes a while to get started as we sift our way through gloopity-gloop string plucking to get somewhere. The payoff is a slow-jam that eventually builds up and melts into a more frenetic sound, with indistinguishable lyrics and shuffling percussion.
Where things really go wrong is the ever-increasing guitar effects sounding like a car speeding and then crashing, followed by a sustained ringing noise. It’s interesting that it shows Connan could easily tell a story without words if he wanted to, but doesn’t really go anywhere beyond that. Not long after, a solemn, lonely guitar riff echoes into the nothingness, delicately undulating for a minute until it picks up again on the final part of the suite. We circle back around to the riffs that were introduced, and then conclude with Asian girls chanting Connan’s name against the backdrop of a flute version of the title track.
The closer, “I Wanna Roll With You”, combines all the elements delivered in soulful fashion and then slowly drifts out as Connan tells us “Thank you very much.” Even if you leave confused, at least he’s polite.
It’s clear this album isn’t for everyone, and could be only appreciated by either die-hards or people who just love outsider music. But the same principles from Forever Dolphin Love apply here. If you go in expecting some sort of hidden meaning or story, you’ll be disappointed. To really appreciate Caramel is to just accept it as it is: another collection of silly and strange songs via spaceman from New Zealand. Connan isn’t trying to tell us something important; he’s just doing himself. You’re not asked to interpret anything, just accept it as is.
Go. With. The. Flow.
I’m someone who unpacks almost every song he hear, and this album taught me that thinking too hard can actually dampen the listening experience. At the end of the day, the music is enjoyable and fantastic. Even if sexy psychedelica isn’t your thing, Caramel is still a head-turner that shows what a delightful weirdo Connan Mockasin is, and that sometimes things can just be good simply for existing. It’s not a particularly strong case to present in his favor, but some of the best things can’t be explained.