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08/23/2019
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Moken Missing Chapters Mood Swing Records

Chances are good that there's nothing else even remotely like this record being released this year. Take your most slicked-up "world" muzak blandness- you know, the stuff with quasi-Cuban rhythms, lobotomized acoustic guitar strumming and production meant to render passion into processed bites of disposability- and then allow the musicians on the recording to fidget, squirm, and finally break from their constrictions, and you've got this record. Its sounds may seem disguised as Starbucks background, but there's something warped lurking just below the surface. There's simply something off about Moken. Think Doug Hream Blunt or Medico Doktor Vibes, artists whose own idiosyncratic take on groove render them outsiders, and you'll have some idea of what's in store here.
Moken, who hails from Cameroun but spent time in Detroit before calling Atlanta home- hence the Mood Swing connection- sings, steers the guitar licks, the trumpet, some of the percussion and the occasional ngoni, all to this record's benefit. Listening to him can often feel unsettling, perhaps even demanding sea legs. On the surface, it's all pretty normal until you pay him a little more attention.

The first track, "Your Sun is Rising," for example, wastes no time introducing Moken's warble. He wavers between falsetto and baritone, and part of the joy is the feeling that he's not really in control of his own pitch. His guitar patterns feel just a bit outside the perimeters of his intentions, and his trumpet playing is as scarred, ragtag, and spontaneous as the rhythm section is secured, buoyed by his impulses. Tracks such as "Machine Man" ramble on well past the 7 minute mark, as he pontificates in half-spoken, half garbled inflections while the song's one-chord pulse tugs him forward. "Whoppay Whoopay Whoopay," he seems to chant. "Walking Man's" single chord slog allows for more of his improvised vocal observations as well as more of his slightly askew trumpet. And on and on this record goes for some 70 minutes, skewering funk ("Retro Africa"), taking the piss out of power balladry ("Everybody Wants to Rule the World"), all the while maintaining its mission to grind a size-13 foot over decades' worth of polished, throwaway song craft, crushing such notions into dust.

This isn't Moken's first release. Chapters of My Life came out in 2016, but this record, at twice the length as the debut, is clearly the artist's rawer intentions, and as such, makes a better entry point. It's not always clear what drives him - a video shows him wearing shades and an elfish hat, and this record's back cover depicts him in a football helmet carrying a guitar case. Listen to his voice long enough and Scott Walker and Nina Simone appear, often at the same time. Elsewhere he scats, laughs, babbles, and sails into that falsetto, seemingly in fright. But this former Cameroonian troubadour of stylistically amorphous song can squeeze the complacency out of any otherwise technically proficient musicians, as he does here. And the world is a brighter place for it. - Bruce Miller