Australian psychedelic electronic artist Johnny Mackay is poised to release the second album under his Fascinator moniker, Water Sign. It is a deeper, funkier expansion of what has been his sole musical project since parting ways with indie rock band Children Collide in 2012. Now residing in New York and making a name for himself on the DJ circuit, Mackay is known for his experimentation and interesting live antics, which included a period of inviting various fans and random people on stage to play air instruments. Showing no signs of deviating from his outlandish ways, this latest release is something to behold.
Dropping in early 2018, the first single to precede the album was the Kasabian-esque psych disco jam “Sex Crystals”. A song about a desert adventure in an invisible car, it provides a repetitive, descending bass line with accompanying percussion enhancing the groove and delivering what could almost be described as world dance music. With shakers and timber percussive inflections coupled with just enough delayed vocal pops and heavily FX’d guitars to satisfy the psychonauts, it’s a winner that is sure to get the hips moving and energy flowing. Backing up to the top of the album, we find second single “Skin Within” as the first cab off the rank. Much like “Sex Crystals” and indeed many of the other tunes on this record, it enters with a simple, repetitive bass line that sticks around for the remainder of the track. Rather than generating a boring and predictable soundscape, as is the trap of much modern club music incorporating this trait, a lush mix of eclectic sound is laid on top and with the seamless weaving of synths and guitars flowing in and out of each other, a fine song is crafted.
Though the production delivers an undoubtedly modern sound and Mackay incorporates all manner of digital wizardry to produce the sounds he does, there is an unmistakably tribal feel to many of the tunes on this album. A good deal of the basis of ancient tribal music was a sturdy, unchanging rhythmic foundation upon which the ecstasy of improvisation would fall. To hear these elements coming through in such modern music demonstrates Mackay’s desire to delve into a world that is largely untapped in the context of what young people listen to in the 21st century. “My Own Private I Don’t Know” attests to this with its enchanting mix of plodding bass, busy drums and sitar. Clearly not wanting to be put in a box, however, the man takes these ancient ideas and makes them his own, incorporating plenty of synth/keyboard work and even some brass passages. Lyrically, the song speaks of tasting fingers, friends turning into reptiles and generally not knowing anything, which seems to befit a song of such wacky quality.
“Your Money, It’s Ugly” passes by with little to stick in the brain, another repetitious musical motif involving plenty of keyboard leads and driving drums, just not as interesting this time. “Baby, Gone” transpires in a similar way with a simplistic set of musical movements resembling a blues structure, albeit performed on keyboard, being the bed for the only two words that make up the lyrical weight, those of the title which are, again, predictably, repeated continually.
“Snake Charmer” enters with a decidedly busier bass line mixing with a steady Radiohead “Weird Fishes” style beat and percussion to form the base for some piercing lead guitar passages, freaking out almost to the point of Hendrix’s live rendition of “Star Spangled Banner”, minus the wall of feedback. Some intense drum fills come crashing towards the end before the track fades out much the way it started. The title track is a 30-second bite of water-based sounds which moves directly in to the next song, “Drenched Out”. Lyrically, as is consistent throughout the album, it is slightly nonsensical with its proclamation “They told me I could be the salty ocean floor”. It’s far from musically groundbreaking, but it does evolve into a soaring outro with a lead line ascending gaily into ecstasy as the track comes to an end.
“A New Rumble” floats in on some kind of bouncing, Caribbean bass rhythm and underscores some tremendous filter sweeps and arpeggiated synth movements. Again, providing no words except those of the title, it starts to become increasingly clear that Mackay hasn’t set out to drop the hardest hitting album in terms of meaningful lyrics, rather that he is attempting to allow the music to speak for itself, and it kind of works. Exactly what the music is saying is pretty obscure and freaky, but it does speak nonetheless. “Midnight Rainbow” is a standout with its driving rhythm and world music leanings, bringing in the sitar again as well as a number of other ambiguous sounds. Sounding like a hi-fi production of The Brian Jonestown Massacre mixed with some beautifully gentle electric piano tinkling towards the end, it settles into a light, feel good mood as it closes out around six and a half minutes, making it the album’s longest track. The final song “Sepia Sandshoes” brings things to a somewhat more traditional ending, being the only song on the record to adhere to a typical structure including strummed guitar chords and a more defined lyrical format. It’s a nice way to finish, likely prompting a smile from listeners with the encouraging words “If it feels right, jump right in”.
Johnny Mackay himself has certainly jumped right in on this album and though it does take a few attempts to get to the core, Water Sign will provide a rewarding journey for many listeners. Even if only for his extremely inventive performances, Fascinator is one to watch, proving with this latest release that he is capable of producing fun and engaging music.
Water Sign is released Friday 15th June via Spinning Top Music.