Danbert Nobacon / Kira Wood Cramer - Mesmerica - Expect a Circus (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Danbert Nobacon / Kira Wood Cramer

Mesmerica - Expect a Circus (2020)

self Released

Mesmerica – Expect a Circus is a full circle release for Danbert Nobacon. The Chumbawmba co-founder has always kept a certain whimsy in music, and that whimsy is usually contrasted by dreadfully serious topics. Yet, over the decades, Danbert has drifted from straight up punk to cabaret to pre-war folk to dance music to everything in between. Since leaving Chumbawamba in 2004, his work has mostly trekked in acoustic folk and folk-punk.

And that’s why Mesmerica, which is actually a collaboration with Kira Wood-Cramer and the Axis of Dissent, hits so hard. Sure, Danbert’s core acoustic guitar songwriting probably formed the backbone of the songs on this massive double disc release. But, whereas his material from the last decade or so has mostly been quiet and reflective, Mesmerica it full on, maximalist.

Frequent collaborator Kira Wood-Cramer is brought in as a partner in the recordings here and maybe it’s strong, nearly musical delivery of Cramer’s style, but Danbert returns to the play-act series of the first two Chumbawamba records. As you can tell by the album’s title, the album focuses on climate change, and at a broader scale, Trump’s destructive polities… or lackthereof. “Elect a clown, expect a circus,” Danbert and Cramer call out. Between many of the songs are extended skits that walk between parody and kindergarten puppet show- it’s high concept, but also calls back to the extended concept-album sections such as “Here’s to the rest of your life.” Citizen’s Usurped has a distinct “Morality play in three acts” flavor.

One of the album’s strongest points is how fleshed out and big scale these tracks are. “Building a Wall” is a seven-minute mini epic that starts out recalling a warped “Entry of the Gladiators” before morphing into a neo-reggae track before bending that back into a sort of Celtic influence. While Danbert and Wood-Cramer pay homage to Martin Niemoller’s famous “First they came for the communists” poem, it sounds like they are having a blast. Not only is it one of Danbert’s strongest compositions ever, but it seems like Danbert and Wood-Cramer are as charged by The Axis of Dissent band is as charged by them. And, you do have to give the band its due credit, too- They’re able to pull the daring trick of having A LOT of instruments in the mix, but bolting them together so each tune sounds melodic and I daresay “simple and catchy,” even if it’s quite complex.

Importantly, despite the misery than Danbert and Wood-Cramer call, though always with a mischievous smirk, the core message is of hope here. “Crazy Demons Play,” which details the horrors of late period capitalism, is presented almost as a lullaby and includes the charge “so we tap into an energy that’s older than history/ given half a chance, we play.” On “Precarious Chair,” the lyrics sound like the pair are in despair but it’s sung like pre-school song: “We want you to act like the world is on fire… because it is!”

Mesmerica is a wide ranging, bold, daring album. There are many chances for missteps in a frikkin double CD. Yet, throughout the oft-dreadfully serious/sometimes silly release, it feels like Danbert is distilling all of his previously releases into a singular, targeted statement. This is the album that hardcore Chumbawamba fans have wanted for years. It’s also nice that it just so happens to strike contemporary political and environmental issues head on… interesting coincidence, that.