Releasing his otherworldly, acid dripped debut in 2011, Connan Mockasin announced himself as distinctly unique voice. A soporific meld of Jazz, Psychadelia, Electronic and Funk, the album’s subtlety and nuance – alongside its ambiguous humour and production – marked it as a shining, if not bizarrely shaped, gem of a record and one I find myself returning to time and again.
Suffice to say I was buzzing with anticipation at the prospect of a second full length record from the New Zealand born space cadet. Recorded over the course of a month in a hotel room in Japan, this is his second release on Errol Alkan’s Phantasy Sound label.
It’s fair to say that the albums first release, “I’m The Man, That Will Find You”, put me on the back foot. It’s narcotic, Prince-styled grooves felt strangely unambitious and the lethargy and bland palette stood as a stark contrast to the vibrancy of Forever Dolphin Love. While the first album felt vital and tactile with its indistinct, serpentine song structures and harmonics and nebulous vocals, the follow up feels plodding and rigid suffering in part from it’s attempted adherence to a (slightly) more traditional aesthetic. The songs lack depth and ambition, the results often being little more than meandering guitar solos that peter into indistinct reverb trails.
The despondent proto-funk style of the album gives it something of an overly maudlin Ariel Pink quality. That is to say that had Before Today been stripped of all of its wry wit and fantastically overblown hooks and production, we might be left with something resembling Caramel. Despite the simplistic nature of the songs, the album is also remarkably devoid of material. On first glance the 40 minute runtime seems long enough but when some 20 plus minutes are taken up by rambling instrumentals laced with soundbites, actual songs are few and far between. For an album that attempts songwriting (albeit songwriting by Mockasin’s skewed idiosyncratic definition) it doesn’t appear that much of this album has been written. It feels largely improvised and unplanned. This lack of coherency comes to a head for the five track “It’s Your Body” suite. Rather than a larger piece broken into five separate movements as I had been expecting, it appears to be little more than an extended jam, cut and pasted into something vaguely structural.
In all I can’t help but feel that this album is something of a regression for Connan. The ineffable magic that permeated the first album has been replaced. Instead we have a lacklustre attempt at a “weird” funk record. It’s hard to judge if the album has simply missed its mark or, as I suspect, he appears to have lost the enthusiasm and imagination with which he approached his first, vastly superior effort.