US-born/UK-bred artist, Cosmo Jarvis is king of the slashies – singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer/mixer/filmmaker. Amongst these many roles, he’s also managed to produce his second album, Is The World Strange Or Am I Strange? a hyper collection of eleven creative tunes that covers much terrain, with genres like: folk, indie, funk, reggae, rock, punk and rap represented. This means there’s a little something for everyone even though most people probably won’t “get” every track.
This album is like the musical equivalent to Dick Van Dyke’s character in Mary Poppins (that is, if he had a mic and a computer added to his kit). It seems like everything and the kitchen sink has been added here in some form or another so comparisons to Damon Albarn and Gotye seem apt. That said this LP is a complex affair that will most definitely divide people because at its worst it is uncomfortable, indulgent and inconsistent with its many twists and layers. But these things are also what lend the record a certain charm because many people will applaud the left field and experimental nature of things, because there are any number of acts that can keep putting out carbon copies of themselves.
Lead track, “Gay Pirates” is a bona fide hit having gone viral and received nods of approval by no less than Stephen Fry et al. It’s a sea shanty and tune about homosexual seamen (geddit?) The use of the mandolin and offbeat nature make me think of a Phil Judd-lead Split Enz meeting the band they transformed into after some line-up changes to release the Time & Tide record. It is also the best example of Jarvis’ ability to take serious ideas and opinions but to present them in a light-hearted and often funny manner, a rare but common theme across these eleven songs.
“Blame It On Me” is a country hoedown boasting some finger-pickingly good acoustic riffs, languid harmonica and a punchy stomp. The title track is equally as sunny but is a rap tune that plays out like Jarvis is sitting on his back porch having some deep and meaningful thoughts about the state of the world. This continues into “My Day” where he screams and uses abrasive and dirty guitar riffs to play the character of grumpy guy to a tee.
But don’t go thinking Jarvis is just another angry, young man. While opinionated and acerbic, there is also a humour that underpins the majority of his work such that you could see the links between him and artists like Dan Kelly, Darren Hanlon and Laura Imbruglia. “The Talking Song” is an example of this because it includes chatter but is actually about people that don’t engage in this activity. Confused? It’s about the majority of people that avoid communicating with others on London’s packed Underground and is a sentiment that any Aussie that commutes to a big city can relate to.
On other tracks like “Let Me Out Of My Head” we see Jarvis almost performing the role of Pied Piper even though his instruments of choice are bongos and acoustic guitars. The latter is also used in “She Doesn’t Mind” which sounds like Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” being sung by someone that’s had a tad too much red cordial. But the most off-the-wall number is definitely the closer, “Betty”. It has everything from sinister Adams Family-like keys, cheery Yves Klein Blue guitars (think Polka ), The Living End’s punch, some chirpy Disney-inspired keys, a waltz feel and a playful vibe. Like many of the other cuts on this LP, this tries to cram at least ten disparate elements into one song with varying degrees of success.
So if you’re thinking that Cosmo Jarvis is simply the guy responsible for the novelty hit, “Gay Pirates”, then you’d better think again. He is actually a talented and wacky eccentric because this record plays like a mammoth YouTube marathon. Moving from one song to another is like clicking from one video to the next where there are often few threads in common save a desire for something new, fresh and interesting.
Equally engaging and jarring, Is The World Strange Or Am I Strange? proves that Jarvis is one interesting, idiosyncratic and peculiar individual who can do quirky, clever, thoughtful and honest in one serving and still leave room for a little something more. So the answer to “Is the world strange?” is a vehement most certainly. Jarvis is living proof that the world is odd and reminds us that the truth is often stranger than fiction.
Originally published on 18 January 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/31270/Cosmo-Jarvis–Is-The-World-Strange-Or-Am-I-Strange
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