The trailer for The World According to Mungo is a flashing, outline of a dog being projected against a void. The image flickers and stutters in and out of backdrops of colourful mosaics and shapes, everything orbiting around the gravitational pull of the guitar’s treble notes on ‘Mungo (Intro to…)’. And in many ways, the opening track serves its purpose well – it’s a tableau of the form that Simon Lee, as inscrutable as ever, will assume as mungo. And, whether or not he’s entirely successful in this, it’s still a rather earnest invitation.
In fact, the track leads in with the dial-up sound of a frustratingly ancient modem, a robotic tinkering, as if one is being tuned into some private frequency. One that was evidently there all along, but had somehow escaped anyone’s notice.
Seamlessly transplanted from Johannesburg surroundings to those of Cape Town, Simon Lee manages to buzz around in an unassuming manner. One half of EE EE with Nicholas Preen (Al Bairre), and a member of the ever-obfuscating Booklub as well as the bassist for Thor Rixon’s live band, he somehow finds the shadowy edges of any spotlight thrown upon him. But it’ll only take a glance at the preoccupied stare in his eyes when in between performances – an agitated almost-boredom – for one to realise that perhaps we’re actually the ones missing something integral, peering just to the left of crucial.
Here, Lee finds centre stage and for the vast portion of the brief EP, his guitar presented as the ostensible driving force. Yet it’s much more subtle than that, generously allowing a vantage point that broadens a window into the often-too-fast busyness of The World According To Mungo. It allows the nuances of a whispered sample or a sourceless, rattling percussion to be perceived in real-time.
There’s perhaps no better example than that of ‘Ess/Dee’: a pitch-shifted vocal splicing, playground chatter, a well-worked drum machine, and what sounds strangely like a rattling box of pills fully occupy the focus for different portions of the song. Yet, somehow, it distinctly feels like we’re honing in on something specific. On all the tracks – even ‘June’13’ with its muted keyboard riff, horns and handclaps in an echoing room – it’s as though the sheer weight of the sounds and samples are too much for their bases too hold. And so they periodically collapse into a dense heap, only for them to pick up and unflaggingly build again.
Whether it be through self-reference or a reworking of an overarching motif, there’s a single-minded continuity between the 4 tracks. A continuity of a fully-formed idea that one wouldn’t believe is possible to cultivate in such a confined space, where others can’t help but piece together multiple, abortive fragments.
The closing track, ‘Velocipede’, is thus the culmination of this idea; the punchline and the fullstop. Curiously sentient, it evolves and unfolds differently depending on how generous one is with the volume knob. Its momentum arches between boisterous drum machine snaps, and careful strumming melding into ambient noise, so that it wouldn’t be out of place in a dancehall at its maximum volume, or pensively enjoyed getting from point A to B at its lowest.
By the end of The World According To Mungo, the image of mungo., and his world, is no less hazy. The picture still flickers and stutters when stared at for too long. But for now, at least we’re looking in the right direction.