Somewhere in the course of 18 studio albums, Of Montreal became a weirdness-obsessed veteran of indie rock. The band’s latest pushes some of the same thematic boundaries as their body of work, plus a few new musical ones.
Dreamy kiwi Connan Mockasin has always seemed a bit uncomfortable with the label “musician.” Despite releasing two critically acclaimed albums, Mockasin has always spoken candidly about his less-than-favorable views of the music industry, and his desire to explore more non-musical passions in the coming years. Therefore, the fact that Jassbusters isn’t a record that most of his career-minded contemporaries would ever dream—or dare—of releasing, isn’t all that surprising.
While technically album three, Jassbusters wasn’t conceived to be consumed as a standalone entity. It’s actually a musical companion to the five-part melodramatic film Bostyn ‘n Dobsyn—the story of high school music teacher Mr. Bostyn (played by Mockasin) and his band, the Jassbusters, of whom all the members are also high school music teachers.
Recorded in just seven days with his touring band, every song on Jassbusters sounds as if it were completed in a single take. This fast and furious approach to the songwriting mirrors the overall slapdash aesthetic of the film (shot in just ten days the previous month), but one can’t help but wonder if the band would have benefitted from a few more days in the studio.
Groovy and sultry opener “Charlotte’s Thong” gives listeners a good idea of what to expect from the eight-track effort. The almost nine-minute song feels a bit like Steely Dan scoring a late-night drive to Roswell, New Mexico. More atmospheric jam than fully fleshed out song (a trend throughout the album), by the end of this first cut you’ll have a pretty good idea if you still want to enroll in Mr. Bostyn’s class.
There’s a definite thread of continuity between Jassbusters and Mockasin’s previous works, but the lack of studio trickery means that the syrupy and ethereal sounds of yesteryear have been replaced with virtuoso guitar chops and one-take vocals. Clearly Mockasin has great chemistry with his new band, but given the number of repetitive songs on the album it seems as if the rushed recording approach was more creatively handcuffing rather than liberating.
Like Purple Rain or Pink Floyd–The Wall, you can’t separate Jassbusters from its companion film. There’s a lot to like for established fans, but newcomers might be better served visiting Mockasin’s earlier discography first.