Phil Elverum (the Microphones, Mount Eerie) Talks Connan Mockasin’s Caramel

Taste is weird and writing about music is so nuts. It's kind of the worst. We are all disconnected bubbles of perception with only cloudy...

Taste is weird and writing about music is so nuts.  It’s kind of the worst.  We are all disconnected bubbles of perception with only cloudy impressions to offer each other, never actually reaching truth or understanding.  Nonetheless, I am assigned this writing project to tell you about my feelings listening to Caramel by Connan Mockasin.

In the interest of directness, I am purposely avoiding learning too much about who Connan Mockasin is and what his intentions are, what eras he’s citing and what pre-reading I should have done.  Here’s what I understand from his press release: he is from the west coast of the north island of New Zealand and he recorded this record in a Tokyo hotel room.

Sure enough, the music feels like the sensation I have when I hear the words “Tokyo hotel room”:  a very clean pile of confusing shapes, a system of understanding that I’m not fluent in, the menu music on a DVD on loop in the other room after you’ve woken up in the middle of the night, trying to open an unusually packaged candy.  Semi-human voices appear and weep and speak and sing with an alien sexuality.  I probably need to learn how to love Prince before opening my mouth too much about this.

Do you know how a phase shifter effect sounds?  It’s on everything here.  All notes are under a layer of oily water; there is Vaseline on the lens.  Layers and layers of phased-out wavering build on each other and dissolve into the next realm.  This music is truly new-sounding to me, even totally baffling.  I listen to plenty of weird shit but I have not heard sounds like these.  There is certainly funkiness and soul-ness and reference points unknown (Prince? Ween? Outkast?) but this album sprawls upward to its own new level.  Aside from the album cover (which makes me feel gross with its pencil-thin moustache, ’70s porn bracelet, rolling in the sheets, cheap golden autograph), Mockasin seems to have achieved originality, creating something from a murk of influences rather than just emulating them.  I suppose it’s possible there are a million regular folks in New Zealand making music like this, but I suspect not.

The other thing I read about Connan Mockasin is that he spent some years focussing on surfing and making moccasins and “beach vehicles.”  That is perfect.  This is definitely home-made music from someone who knows how to weld beach vehicles.  It is well built and unusual, not to mention oceanic.  So should I think about wild beaches in New Zealand or should I think about a Tokyo hotel room?  Or should I think about an isolated Kiwi surfer dreaming up new dune buggy possibilities from his own Tokyo hotel room?  All music is a soundtrack to a place and time, usually imagined, and this bending music is impossible for me to place.  Where am I?

There are some moments of familiarity hanging like rope ladders from a low, pink cloud.  Weirdly, the short, wordless distortion blast called “It’s Your Body 3” is abstract enough that I feel at home in it.  Later in the album, at the end of “It’s Your Body 5” (there are also “It’s Your Body”s 1, 2, and 4) some female Japanese voices laugh and join in the chorus, recalling a singalong melody from earlier in the album.  I nod my head in recognition, but of what?  There is a story being told here but I don’t understand the plot.  It is a pleasant baffled feeling, gentle, warm, and alienating.  The album ends and I am sitting in my house, feeling just a little more intimate with the ocean of weirdos out there.

Phil Elverum has produced two decades worth of records as The Microphones and Mount Eerie that span a wide spectrum, from studio heavy atmospheric landscaping to simple, raw songs. His upcoming album, Now Only, is an exploration of death, remembrance, and legacy. It is out March 16th on his own P.W. Elverum & Sun. You can follow him on Twitter here.