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What happens when the party’s over? Not the day after—or the hangover—but a little bit after that. When decadence reaches its end. When living, creating, and performing with a lack of limits starts to feel like a lack of definition. Which is to say, what happens when you realize the only way to really know yourself is to definitively say what you’re not?
That’s the question that defines CMON, the new recording project of Josh da Costa and Jamen Whitelock. Even as they established themselves as integral members of New York’s DIY scene with their band Regal Degal, da Costa and Whitelock were acutely aware of how closed off they had become. “We had our little world and it was like we were these cavemen huddling around this fire that only we really understood. At the end of the day, that was a betrayal of making art—we were guarding this thing, like it was our secret,” da Costa says.
As Regal Degal mounted its final tour, with clubs pushing their set times earlier and earlier to make space for the DJs who followed da Costa and Whitelock took notes. “We were definitely getting swept further from where we wanted to be and the excitement we wanted to portray,” Whitelock says. “There’s such joy in going out and dancing that was completely missing in a lot of shows, especially in New York. Nobody wants to move, everyone’s too self-conscious. But when you go to the club, everyone’s in it—you just want to dance, and that’s all that matters.”
The community potential and the promise of physical liberation that came with dance music spoke loudly to both da Costa and Whitelock, and following the dissolution of Regal Degal, da Costa set up a new life for himself in Los Angeles—a steady relationship, a pet bird, a car—and got down to work with a copy of Ableton. Back in New York, his head spun by DJ Rashad, Whitelock was learning to program, too. They kept their line of communication open, and eventually Whitelock started making the cross-country trek to work and record with his old bandmate. They mined the sound they established with Regal Degal, applying their old band’s heavy atmospherics and melancholy soul to four-on-the-floor rhythm grids and smoothed-out guitar lines, taking production cues from EBM and AOR in equal measure.
The resulting album, Confusing Mix of Nations, was recorded in a handful of small private studios in Los Angeles (“no pro zones”) and produced entirely by da Costa while he and Whitelock learned how to manipulate their synths and keyboard rigs on the fly. They took their new name from a section divider in a record storage space where their Regal Degal bandmate Josiah Wolfson once worked. “There was a section of world music called “Confusing Mix of Nations,” da Costa says. “Taken literally it sums us up perfectly. I was born in NYC and partially raised in Brussels by parents who are from the Carribean, while most of my family lives in Amsterdam, and Jamen is half-Taiwanese from Miami.”
If Confusing Mix of Nations is a tour of anything, though, it’s not countries so much as psychic spaces. Each of its ten tracks feels like a postcard from an aesthetic territory worth returning to. Opener “Coo” begins with locked-in grooves reminiscent of Drugdealer (for whom da Costa drums) or Mild High Club, until it suddenly gives itself over to a rhythm that’s been chattering away in the back of the track. As da Costa and Whitelock follow its hints, “Coo” suddenly inverts its priorities and sounds like Miami bass all leaned out for Halloween, then calmly returns to the opening groove, the only proof of the excursion an excess of delay on da Costa’s vocal. “Peter Pan” struts like it’s on its way to meet side two of Sandinista! in its verses, then glows with New Romantic shine in the chorus. The pop hooks on “Good to Know” feel like they could set off a festival crowd, but they’re offset by a strange hollow ache at the song’s center—a weird sadness that makes you feel a little bad for dancing to it.
Don’t let it stop you; body-rocking is the whole point. “When I moved to New York, a lot of people were making really interesting electronic music and manipulating sounds, and I was really kind of bummed—there were no songs. And I really wanted to hear songs,” da Costa says. So that’s what he and Whitelock made, a collection of songs that dare your dance, invite you to move. It’s an album of pop ambition that understands “pop” to be a state of mind, not a state of sales: It’s the deceptively deep sound that goes straight to your body. \n \nIn the end, which is actually a new beginning, da Costa and Whitelock moved through their wild years and came out disciplined, settled, and calmer—and able to take their biggest artistic risks yet as a result. Confusing Mix of Nations is where they’re going.