One of the great mysteries of the Canadian indie music scene is the career of Jay Crocker. The enigmatic musician has obviously flirted with occasional success: His contributions to Ghostkeeper’s eponymous album from 2010 helped it crack the Polaris Music Prize long list that same year; The Calgary Herald named his 2006 debut solo album Melodies from the Outskirts the best indie release of the year; and his jazzy NoMoreShapes project was positively reviewed by The New York Times.
Yet, despite his occasional flourishes of recognition, Crocker remains a kind of musician’s musician. He never really got his big moment, seemingly unable to surf the rising wave of Calgary’s economic boom to breakthrough into the general hip conversation like similarly brilliant indie noise monger Chad VanGaalen.
In search of sparser pastures, Crocker left his hometown in Alberta for a little place in Nova Scotia called Crousetown. Holed up there at his home studio, Prism Ship, with a Harry Partch-worthy collection of 14 custom-built instruments that boast names as far out as The Comb Over and The Pink Dolphin, MUUIXX sees Crocker composing and performing each of their distinctive timbres into a cohesive statement. The compositions sound generally repetitive and mechanical, yet he eschewed looping and sampling in favor of meticulous live performance governed by a circular scoring method of his own creation, which lends his quirky minimal electronic explorations even more of that essential uneven hemline of humane analog quirkiness.
There is much to be admired about Crocker’s latest work. Following up the Sappy Tape from 2014 and his simmering remix of Hey Mother Death’s “Snake Power” from earlier in 2015, he sounds at home on JOYFULTALK’s Drip Audio debut. He captures with ease the kind of humorous aloofness and dazzling originality that has been a hallmark of his career.
“Butterfly 12 Komokyo” has an effervescent folktronic quality reminiscent of the Balky Mule, a slowly revealing childlike awe. “Pommel Horse” is kinda like an interpretative synth-pop medley of Roy Budd’s Get Carter theme and “Venus in Furs” by The Velvet Underground. “Gym Class” has a bit of a post-apocalyptic truck-backing-up vibe, a pulsing drone with staccato strings sparsely adding to its simmering tension and a metallic lead with offbeat flourishes like a somewhat more coherent version of a later-career Dieter Moebius track. “Buschbabies” has a manic motorik feel, while “If I Had Your Address in Chicago” hums along with a slight ghostly trip-hop vibe that seemed to fall out of the DJ Wally wormhole. Even without knowing the intricate details of its creation, fans of early German electronic and contemporary experimental music should find much to appreciate throughout this record.
Like VanGaalen’s Black Mold releases, MUUIXX is thoroughly fun and interesting, but it remains a little too niche to place in a suitable commercial or buzz-factory context. If Crocker’s warped epic solo album from 2011, Co-Stars, failed to earn him the attention he truly deserves, it’s doubtful an album that sounds like it was derived from the most unusual moments on that album, namely the oddly titled broken jalopy of “squid tits,” will get that job done. And so, Crocker remains one Dig documentary away from rock & roll infamy.