Connan Mockasin is like a parody of himself.
But rather than oversimplifying his persona with every step, he instead refines it, with subtle nods to his influences with every new flourish. This has never been more evident than on his new album Jassbusters, wherein his signature tongue-in-cheek falsetto delivery and loose, melodic guitar transcend his self-caricature to the point of brilliance.
Opener ‘Charlotte’s Thong’ and lead single ‘Con Conn Was Impatient’ channel the best of cheesy 70s rock—smooth and sexy tracks that sound like Neil Diamond or James Taylor, but adorned with helium vocals and Stratocaster quacks bent beyond sincerity. This establishes that Mockasin is happy to tap into musical traditions and incorporate the elements he likes without restricting himself to a fixed mode of expression. Similarly, the album at various points mimics the jazz-rock convolutions of Steely Dan while retaining a contemporary affectation, rendering it musically akin to bands such as Mild High Club or Mac DeMarco.
In this vein, the album also mirrors Serge Gainsbourg’s 1971 record Histoire De Melody Nelson—a reference made explicit by the title track’s allusion to Serge’s daughter Charlotte, who Mockasin has collaborated with. Gainsbourg’s classic pioneered the genre of concept album whereby the instrumentation and songs all served a larger, cohesive narrative—specifically, the melodramatic seduction of the titular character ‘Melody’.
Similarly, Jassbusters tells of an affair between a music teacher and a student. While the result is largely clichéd lyrics about longing and spoken word segments which lack credibility to the point of hilarity, the knowledge that the work is intended as comedic and not taking itself too seriously prevents us from criticising these facts—we are able to the laugh at the ridiculous and appreciate the legitimately beautiful musical moments that arrive. Songs such as ‘Momo’s’ and ‘Les Be Honest’ are spectacular tracks when divorced from their narrative context (and titles). On such tracks, melancholic and resigned guitar serves as a bed for guest vocalist James Blake’s crooning, which treads a fine line between the delicacy of Thom Yorke and the cool confidence of Antony and the Johnsons.
This is where Connan Mockasin succeeds, where similar musicians struggle. He operates in a mode similar to contemporaries such as Kirin J Callinan whereby the tropes of a genre are recreated and pushed to the point of absurdity. However, Mockasin’s music differs in that it can still be enjoyed even when removed from its satirical context. Like Dave Graney, whose shtick weighs a tonne, Mockasin moves between satire and sincerity and thus achieves a subtle balance between the two, rather than being completely reliant on either. Mockasin’s persona acts as a tool for his musical expression, rather than his music being beholden to the expectations of his image.
One of the record’s flaws is how much it departs from Connan’s previous work. His first LP, Forever Dolphin Love, had an ethereal and psychedelic quality that established Mockasin as an original artist with a distinct sound, so the fact that Jassbusters is more pastiche than progression renders it slightly underwhelming. Nonetheless, it is the natural next step from his second LP Caramel, which applied his unique style to smoother, more commercially accessible genres such as R&B. Despite being more derivative and less sonically unique, Jassbusters does so intentionally, and it does it well.
Listening to Jassbusters is like crying at a sitcom. You’re laughing along, only for it to hit you in the gut with an unexpected moment of staggering emotion. Before you can recover, it’s taking the piss out of itself once again. And the genius part is, you’re in on the joke.