, November 8th, 2013 09:02
A 8-track cartridge left to warp in the sun for 30 years? The sound of an elf singing in the bath? However you choose to describe the weird, warped sounds of Caramel, the second album from New Zealander Connan Mockasin, there's an undeniable warm, oozing sensuality to it. Even the cover image - a soft-focus boudoir shot of the singer reclining, shrouded in his own baby-soft, flyaway blonde hair, rocking a bumfluff pencil moustache and a come hither look - has a strong air of unthreatening, buttery sweetness. Then there are the songs themselves - delicious confections that pull in a hundred and one reference points, from Sinead O'Connor and Prince to Ariel Pink and even Ween, all layered with fuzzy guitars and breathy declarations of desire. It's an odyssey of ooze and wooze. Not bad for an alleged concept album supposedly about a man's love for a dolphin and a car race (and, ultimately, a car crash).
Caramel is an undeniably quirky album, but there's a trippy, blissed out soul sensuality to it that ebbs and flows through the vast number of different influences and sounds that inform the songs. The standout track is 'I'm The Man That Will Find You', a poppy, helium sci-fi croon that sounds like the dwarf from Twin Peaks doing Barry White karaoke. It's a killer earworm that will probably get itself stuck in your head for longer than wholly appropriate. This seductive theme is continued with the cute and coy 'Do I Make You Feel Shy?', a more mature confection that replaces (some of) the oddball quirk with a certain tenderness - it's a tune that flutters its eyelashes at you before summoning you to bed.
But there's a constant thread of off-kilter creepiness running underneath it all. Wrapped up amidst all the sweet, sticky sounds, it occasionally catches you off guard. For one thing, the five consecutive tracks all titled 'It's Your Body' flow from distorted rolling burbles and roars (in parts it sounds like he's thumping the presets on a cheap Casio keyboard while AM radio plays in the background) to scraping noises, roaring bellows and distorted moans. This suite comes directly after the album's most unsettling track, 'Why Are You Crying' - six minutes of mutated and overprocessed, breathy (almost orgasmic sounding) sobs over a shimmering haze of plinky-plonky guitars. The overall effect is more redolent of a child crying over a broken toy than a rejected lover crying over a broken heart.
When a performer's supposed eccentricity is lampshaded as much as Mockasin's is, it's easy to write it off as cheap schtick, designed as a crowd-pleasing USP and, at first listen, it's easy to dismiss Caramel as contrived. But once you get past the gimmicks, be they dolphins, falsetto vocals or Japanese girls whispering "we love you Connan", you'll find genuine talent and quality informing the album's blissed out psychedelia. Caramel is a sugary-sweet treat to savour.