Album artwork by Lia Kohl and Deidre Huckabay
by Georgia Hampton
I Like My Friends, the new album by Chicago-based experimental group Mocrep, begins at Guitar Center. The first track, aptly titled “GUITARCENTER,” opens with what is likely actual ambient audio recorded inside one of the stores—miscellaneous sounds of people working, objects shifting, drawers being opened. And throughout, the awkward, self-conscious noise of patrons testing out the merchandise.
But all of this is made stranger through the swift emergence of other, more sinister sounds. The dragging and thumping of drums, metallic-sounding vibrations, waves of synth weaving in and out of that ambient space until they are all brought to a feverish crescendo. Suddenly, a voice breaks through, as if the sky had just opened up over this Guitar Center and the voice of God was booming down upon the shoppers. “Mocrep is nothing. Equal parts nothing, nothing, and nothing. Mocrep creates nothing and wants nothing,” the voice says evenly. It lists the remaining 17 tracks of the album, muses on how nice it is to be frank with one another about the work we share, and then the voice falls apart—sonically untangling and reverberating until it disappears.
And with that, we’re off.
I Like My Friends flits from one musical genre to another with a kind of manic ease, sometimes landing more than once on a particular style, but never lingering. “am.i.vib.ing.rn,” the second track, serves up a crunchy, squelchy 11 seconds of vocals and beats mimicking each other to a point where it’s almost hard to distinguish one element from the others. But just as soon as it arrives it departs, catapulting listeners into the frenzied, disco wonderland of “All I Need,” where the repeated line “I’m awesome, I’m beautiful, I am the best” is delivered with the shaggy confidence one would have once the coke hits.
Any time the listener feels encouraged to settle into a rhythm in this album, Mocrep immediately disrupts it. The loping, sleepy slide guitar and deep, monotonous vocals of “Cold Pillow” are swiftly followed by the creeping, breathy instrumentals of “(¬_¬).” And after that, Mocrep offers up a sonic slap in the face with “breakupbreakdown,” 12 shrieking seconds of what sounds like the breakdown portion of a song by an electro-hardcore band.
If the album had one favorite genre to land on, it is at the meeting point of funk, disco, and electronic music, with each song inside this theme constructed as if from different vignettes from the same dream. In one delightfully delivered speaking portion of “420 Suite: Sunrise,” a voice describes in well-enunciated diction their mythic journey “past the hall of the mountain lords and down the stone-carved corridor of despair” over pulsating, xylophonic beats—a moment that feels both dreamy and unexpectedly hilarious.
Throughout the album, Mocrep offers three of these “420 Suites” as a kind of cooling-off period from the mad dash across theme and genre. These tracks are longer than most of the other songs on the album, and each contain a speaking portion which carries a pensive, even yearning, message that feels just inches out of reach. In “420 Suite: Dietary Restrictions,” a voice lists the picky eating habits of two different people, a man and a woman, over the sound of pots and pans being cleaned, punctuated repeatedly by six descending piano notes. The final suite, “420 Suite: When You’re Gone” goes full cyborg, with layered, electronically distorted voices monotonously listing things like “who will ignore me when you’re gone” and “who will pour concrete when you’re gone” over wave after wave of bright synth.
The album often feels as if it’s hinting at a delicious secret. It presents recognizable subject matter—food, love, heartbreak—but does it in a way that suggests a deeper, less tangible emotion, then jumps to another track just before the moment where it could be expressed. And the album delights in flipping from genre to genre, adding a mischievous humor to this quandary. It’s as if Mocrep is telling its listeners “oh, come on, don’t take this so seriously” only to turn around and ask, “but don’t you want to know what’s really going on?”
Despite its declared distance from meaning—the Guitar Center voice claiming that Mocrep “creates nothing and wants nothing”—one track reaches out and grabs at a sincere emotion that feels different from the rest. “My Dearest Dear,” the last track on I Like My Friends, pairs the crackling voice singing over the phone with acoustic guitar and strings, accompanying their unprofessional singing with so much affection that the band’s manifesto in the first track melts away. Even after the voice cuts out and the phone connection is lost, the instrumental continues in its place, finishing the song for them.
But even this ultimately feels like a diversion from meaning. This track, so kind and surprisingly different from the rest, only continues the mystery of I Like My Friends because of its uniqueness. Somehow all 17 tracks—spanning across multiple genres and themes—feel connected. And perhaps that’s merely a testament to the skill with which Mocrep straddles these vastly different tracks and brings them into a cohesive whole. Maybe the underlying message really is nothing. But even if there is some secret codex hidden within this bizarre, kaleidoscopic album, its unanswerability carries its own kind of allure. And what a delightfully infuriating puzzle to solve.
Georgia Hampton is a cultural critic interested in gender archetypes, film, TV, death, ghosts, movies about the mafia, vampires, music (but isn’t everyone), food, that one listicle about the best Trader Joe’s products that I keep accidentally re-reading, and history.