President 0f Mozambique
9 out of 10
ESM for the uninitiated
by Jericho Cerrona
March 28, 2012
It’s rare for an album to become so all encompassing that even after repeat listens it still manages to offer new and enthralling surprises. Icelandic singer/actor JJ Brine’s latest LP is just one of these rare listening experiences. Dazzling, immersive, disorienting, and evoking a sensation of auditory rapture that’s nearly impossible to describe, President of Mozambique is the first truly great record of 2012.
In all honesty, Brine might be utterly bonkers (his press photos reveal a black-hooded figure obscured by a menacing chrome mask), but either way, there seems to be a deranged kind of brilliance at work here. Though reclusive, he’s nevertheless described his work as “electronic spirit music” (ESM) and claimed to have been possessed by a demon entity during the recording process. Whether or not he actually believes any of this, or is simply acting out some kind of meta-conceptual stunt is unclear, but none of this really matters because the artistic trappings never outweigh the actual music. President of Mozambique has come out of nowhere as a major statement from an artist operating along the fringes, and NY-based indie label Drug Lord Records aren’t exactly smearing the internet with shameless promotional gimmicks, either. This makes Brine’s follow up to 2011’s Code Cracker all the more extraordinary; it has the feeling of a rumbling storm slowly making its way toward the landscape of unsuspecting music listeners. Before long, Brine seems to be implying, the end of all things will be brought on by the sound of churning synthesizers and vocoder-transmitted prophesies.
Though all 11-tracks are structured around the template of gothically moody synthpop, Brine tweaks familiar sounds until they eventually turn into sonic mutations from alien life forms. There are hooks and melodies aplenty, but the music never achieves overt accessibility because everything is so warped and fractured. Take the child molestation lullaby “Candy and Love”, for example. It features a mid-tempo backbeat, swirling keyboards, xylophone, and lush production that might appeal to fans of M83, but it also contains what will probably be the litmus test for most listeners; weirdly androgynous vocals. Brine swathes his voice in all manner of vocoder effects and then layers them to create a neo-futuristic vibe that’s consistently fascinating, but the choice will possibly turn off those that desire something more easily accessible. Make no mistake; this is not auto-tune bullshit. Brine uses digitally manipulated vocals in order to create a darkly brooding atmosphere rather than as a gimmick, or to hide poor vocal abilities. Truthfully, there’s no way to really tell if Brine can sing in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t seem to matter since this isn’t the type of music that would even require such a thing. Though the production is impressively hi-fi and expansive, there’s a DIY aesthetic that means nothing is curtailed for mass consumption or to appease oblivious label execs. Therefore, the album largely follows in line with the auteur theory; namely, it sounds like something only JJ Brine could have made, though there are obvious nods and influences gleaned from other artists such as Joy Division, Depeche Mode, and especially German musician/artist/actress Nico (of whom Brine is a self-professed fan). Yes, the vocal style may alienate and the eccentricity of the songwriting is an acquired taste, but it’s hard to deny the ominous industrial stomp of “Dispossession”, the gorgeously interweaving synths and mantra-like vocals on “We Get Along”, and the epic Joy Division-esque “Innovation”.
President Of Mozambique could very well be a game changer, or it might just pass by completely unnoticed. It’s difficult to predict what kind of immediate impact the album will have and whether a work this decidedly avant-garde can reach a mainstream audience. But perhaps that’s a compliment to JJ Brine’s inventive take on portentous electronic music. Maybe something this good really can’t be fully embraced by everyone. In any case, the end is nigh, and Brine will there ushering in the apocalypse with the ultimate soundtrack.