Some musicians know where they're from and where they're going, and why. Others, such as Connan Mockasin, can only work from instinct, not so much disinterested in the bigger picture as unable to see it. Take Mockasin's first album, Forever Dolphin Love, which he only wrote and recorded because his mother suggested it. Or his new album Caramel, triggered because he liked the onomatopoeic quality of the word, and the music and words just followed.
It was Forever Dolphin Love that pricked the ears of Erol Alkan, who promptly signed Connan on the spot to his then new label, Phantasy. Erol's 10-minute rework of the album title track became a regular hallmark of his DJ gigs and soon artists such as Radiohead, Grizzly Bear, The Horrors and Django Django were citing Connan as an artist they most admired in various press interviews.
This lack of interest in the bigger picture helps explain the evolution from the labyrinthine, oddball-psych of Forever Dolphin Love to Caramel's equally inventive and unique brand of mutated, lustrous soul, almost wholly self-recorded over a month in a Tokyo hotel room. Mockasin remains what Clash Music called "a true cosmonaut of inner space" but the new album explores different regions of his galaxy, not just soul but a liquefied brew of blues, funk, ambient and folk with pronounced Oriental and Gallic timbres, all laced with an uncanny air of bliss.
Oh, and it's a concept album. Of sorts. "The concept is that it's actually an album," says Mockasin. "It starts with the dolphin [from the debut album] leaving, and the boss (the man) who is so in with love with the dolphin is sad, and then it kicks into the new album, and he is happier. But there's a car race and a crash..."
In track terms, Mockasin's narrative starts with album intro Nothing Lasts Forever, shifts to Caramel and, later on, crash-emulating guitar shrieks that constitute part three of the five-part It's Your Body. Part four, however, is all tranquil and Zen. "That was when I heard my friend was dying and I felt sad," Mockasin explains; "it's just ideas in my head that I put together, and later on it might make more sense. But I don't think about the meaning at the time. Or I'm not aware of it."
Mockasin is also unaware of the possibility that Caramel has hints of Scritti Politti's exquisitely stitched soul, or of Prince - if the Minneapolis legend had spent time in Canterbury, the learned epicentre of South East England's progressive psychedelia during the late 60s and early 70s, where the likes of Syd Barrett and Kevin Ayers began their own musical journeys. "Prince goes to Canterbury, that's a good one!" Mockasin retorts. "Maybe Caramel is a little bit soul. Maybe it comes a smidge more from hip hop, which to me sounds much fresher than what's called ‘indie'. Sometimes I'm ashamed to be in a band, or a musician, at this point in time."
Mockasin was about to record what became Caramel with his band when he rushed home when his father was suddenly taken ill. In the aftermath, he decided to retreat to Tokyo - whose aura can be heard in tracks such as It's Your Body (Part Five) and the chatter of young Japanese voices dotting the album, adding more levels of intrigue and imagination. "Too much of the music that I do get to hear I find too aware or processed," he says. "I just want to capture the first idea I have, which is always the most mysterious and attractive part."
If Caramel wasn't enough, Mockasin has also been writing more material for Charlotte Gainsbourg after penning the exquisite Out Of Touch for the actress/singer's 2012 mini-album Stage Whisper. Connan was already popular in France - "it felt like they immediately understood what I was doing" - and their on-going collaboration will only endear him more to the French. It's another sign that Mockasin is going places, but at his own pace, just as Caramel suggests the process of melting and taking on a new shape, a new taste. That is the true sound of Connan Mockasin.