I have to admit that at this point, I’m pretty sick of hearing that wah-and-flanger-processed, jangle pop guitar sound. It’s a vintage, pointedly time-warped sound that I associate with a handful of events in indie rock that meant a lot to me in the past five years—Ariel Pink’s Before Today, Real Estate’s Days, David Keenan’s infamous WIRE article on hypnagogic pop—but that maybe my generation’s musicians and critics and label people loved a little too much, to the point that it became something of a default setting in guitar-based music, more of a period style than a deliberate aesthetic choice.
Then I heard Connan Mockasin‘s Caramel, the New Zealand musician’s sophomore record and Mexican Summer debut, and I realized that I had it all wrong. It’s not the musical language you use that determines whether the work you’re making will ultimately sound lazy or alive—it’s how you chose to maneuver within it, and Caramel is so full of unexpected turns and embraced idiosyncrasies that the candy denoted by the title almost starts feeling like a metaphor for how he’s manipulating the language of vintage psych-pop. There’s hardly a vocal note here that isn’t pitched or stretched into some extreme, cartoonish version of itself, hardly a guitar note that isn’t manipulated with the minute inflections of a voice, and even where the songwriting is just straight-up gorgeous, enough curveballs to keep our ears in a state of unfolding surprise (think: the odd R&B melisma or a Japanese language field recording). I’d say that this is the next great Ariel Pink album that Ariel Pink never made, but that’s just because I too am limited by the language and references at my disposal and finding it hard to describe how weirdly beautiful it really is. So you should probably just listen to it below, and pick up a copy via Mexican Summer when it’s out next week.
Stream: Connan Mockasin, Caramel