i.e. crazy - Non Compos Mentis. A dark masterpiece revisited
This year for New Zealand Music month we’re focusing on our vinyl collection at Auckland Libraries’ Heritage Collections. This collection of NZ LPs and 45s (also known as 7-inch records) covers the gamut of musical genres and time periods from the 1950s right up to current releases. That’s right – we buy new release vinyl for our Heritage Collections! To celebrate this cool collection we asked a couple of our Central Library colleagues to review some of their favourites. Here's Dedee's review of Non Compos Mentis by i.e. crazy.
|Image; Album cover photo by Sean Kelly & Frances Libeau, 2017.
At the time of writing, this album had just turned four. Non Compos Mentis by i.e. crazy was released on Muzai Records on April 21, 2017. Hard to believe only four years has passed. Feels like much longer, so much has happened since then. But it also seems quite timely to revisit this dark masterpiece, as it turns out i.e. crazy (Frances Libeau) is gearing up to release some new material soon. This album is still one of my favourites, (it jumped out at me from the list of records we were choosing from), and there are lots of memories and stories that come with it.
A quick introduction for those who don’t know this artist, taken from their Bandcamp page:
i.e. crazy’s electric folklore explores the qualities of individuals on the brink; the obsessive lover, the amnesiac killer, the indifferent stranger, the stifled child. Exploring the neurotic horror of the banal erupting symbolically and violently in their home country of New Zealand, i.e. crazy (aka Maggie Magee - aka Frances Libeau – formerly Claire Duncan of Dear Time’s Waste) roves through an unsettling and perverse array of human behaviours with a critical yet empathetic gaze, delving to scrape, sample and haunt the dregs of dirt we’d rather were left untouched.
Listening to this album brought back memories of the stunning live performances that came with it.
There was a gig at the Minnie St house, that was probably the first time I saw them. In the living room which had a small kitchen in it, a few of us squashed together on the couch and a small crowd standing wherever there was room. Another time they played with a band in the back garden, just as the night was turning dark, with the backdrop of the motorway off-ramps behind them. I have a photo of it somewhere, buried in my digital archives. Doubt I could find it now, but I can definitely recall the atmosphere was magic.
Frances: “I remember playing the backyard there a couple of times; if I remember this one correctly it could have been early in 2017 for the Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing album release; also playing (if I remember right) was Ron Gallipoli, Seth Frightening and Ave Teth.”
Another memorable performance was in the Backroom at Borderline Festival when i.e. crazy teamed up with Shab Orkestra.
Frances: “This was part of the 2016 Borderline Festival (commissioned by Whammy/Wine Cellar); me and Shab Orkestra curated Whammy Backroom for the evening. We did a collaborative performance centred around the song we did together - it was one of my favourite shows I've ever been a part of.”
That was the best collaboration I’d seen in a long time. We may never see it again, unless Shab Orkestra reforms (one of them moved to Montreal and still lives there I think). The whole set was stunning, I remember how the horn lines fit perfectly in Closed Case, and the different sounds complemented each other beautifully.
I'm not sure if i.e. crazy still performs as much or is planning to with their next release, but I certainly hope so. And if they do announce some shows, I'll be there for sure.
As a fan, I really enjoyed rediscovering this album through writing this.
I thought I’d approach it as a track-by-track listen, a ‘walk through’ of sorts—taking you into the dramatic, emotional world of i.e. crazy.
|Image: Press release photo, Frances Carter, 2019
Track 1: The Ape (Plastic Surgery Song)
From the first strike of the guitar strings, you know this album’s taking you on a different kind of journey. It’s stark, searingly beautiful, and perhaps the perfect example of a dysfunctional love song. Frances’ vocals are dramatic and expressive, swooping to the highs and lows of the song’s emotions, with subtle cracks and guttural twists. I find myself sinking into the dark world of these songs again like it’s my first listen, and I happily immerse myself in it.
‘I’ll get plastic surgery
to look like your plastic surgery
You have the kind of face we need
So slip that skin off in front of me’
Track 2: Praying Mantis
A soft synth drone, gives way to a primal, strident energy when they sing the first line, punctuated by a forceful “Ha ha ha” that comes around repeatedly. Building eventually to the chorus, that peaks into wild screamy vocals, and more of that raw gritty emotion that makes this album so addictive to listen to.
‘Feed me and I’ll feed you
Like a praying mantis ought to
So get down on your knees’
Track 3: An Incident on the Edge of Town
Starts with the sound of a lawn mower starting up. Then blends smoothly into a steady solid groove. Crisp drumbeats driving it on, beneath a strong chorus. I do think they achieved that “poppy” sound they were going for in a way. I mean, if there is such a thing as post-rock or industrial pop, there are some big choruses on this album that fans can sing along to, for sure. Such as this one;
‘I saw something on the green
Something caught beneath the wheels
And the body smiling shouts
It’s one more in and one more out’
Track 4: Closed Case
This one starts with a recording of the 111 call David Bain made to the police, saying his family are all dead. These crackly bits of audio give the album a documentary kind of feel. Glimpses of other worlds, into the lives of these ‘characters on the brink’.
Incidentally, Frances talked about the near mythic intrigue and sensationalism around murder cases, in an interview with Finn Johansson on Radio Active FM in 2020. During the interview, they talked about how she had just visited Aramoana, a small town near Dunedin that’s often associated with a mass shooting that happened there. Frances talks about lifting the veil of “socially developed mythology” that hangs over this place: “There’s so much of that fetishizing of that social horror, that’s kind of disturbing.”
This doleful waltz of a song is accompanied by the sound of a shovel scraping on gravel throughout. An eerie sound that suggests someone digging a hole to bury the bodies.
‘There are words for some things
Like paper bag and margarine
But not for this thing
Not for this thing’
Track 5: A Child’s Blood
Their voice weaves smoothly through the sombre minor key melody, that brightens unexpectedly at the corners. The bits of muffled audio mid-track add to the seedy mysterious vibe. Then a bit of cheerful piano music (This Old Man, a tune signifying the carefree days of childhood) kind of throws you. It stops abruptly then there’s ten seconds of a clock ticking. Chilling.
Track 6: You’re a Stranger (to me now)
I'm pretty sure this was the single, it got a fair bit of radio play on bFM at the time, and I never got sick of it. It’s a dramatic sprawling beauty of a song, that sweeps from angsty lows to gentler floating highs, where the singer reminisces fondly;
‘But darling when we met, you were a different kind of strange...’
And I like the little reference Frances put in, which I assume is from their time working in a bookstore;
‘I am closer to the customers who stare at me, and ask me so intently of the latest greatest fiction to be read...’
You're a Stranger makes you feel like you're at a macabre opera where the heroine stalks the stage, singing out their angst—reflecting, musing, and at times howling full of emotion—over the ashes of a past love that’s become no more than a distant memory.
|Image: i.e. crazy - You're a stranger (to me now) - music video, 2015.