Both. That’s the apparent answer to the question posed by eccentric U.K. songsmith Cosmo Jarvis on his sophomore record, Is The World Strange Or Am I Strange? Jarvis, as hyper-imaginative as he is hyperactive, takes listeners on a bumpy yet nevertheless scenic ride across scads of genres, ideas and narratives, all framed within his quirky yet occasionally enlightening perspective on the world.
Initially, Is The World comes off as a Flight Of The Conchords-style collection of eclectically silly tunes, a misconception that isn’t helped any by a lead-off track about gay pirate lovers whose gimmicky kitsch is hard to stomach once, let alone multiple times through. Luckily, most of what follows reveals the mind of a much wittier songwriter more interested in seeking profundity through the peculiar than cheap laughs.
Jarvis juggles a garden variety of genres over the course of the record, employing a different style on practically every song, dipping into everything from whippin’ bluegrass (“Blame It On Me”) to angsty rock (“My Day”) to Jack Johnson-esque acoustic rock (“She Doesn’t Mind”), stretching his strange point of view to fit a wide a scope of songwriting. The shifts from song to song are frequently strange and often jarring, but that seems to be the way Jarvis likes it.
Jarvis finds his stride when singing about the uncomfortable, like the feeling of being too scared to talk to people on the subway although you want to on “The Talking Song” or shameful sex on “Dave’s House.” In a record full of left-field and sometimes tongue-in-cheek lyrics and subject matters, “The Wave That Made Them Happy,” a strings-boostered love song that takes place on the verge of the apocalypse, comes off as deeply affecting in juxtaposition. The nearly 10-minute-long “Betty” punctuates the record with a big fat question mark, as it swerves mercilessly from hard rock to jazz to dubstep as it chronicles the tribulations of a prostitute.
It’s a strange world we live in, no question, and as Cosmo Jarvis demonstrates on this record, the best—and most fun—way to react is to be as strange as you can in response.