How Bad Can It Be?: Mishka

Written by How Bad Can It Be?, Music

So I’m eating pork rinds naked at my computer, idly wiping my greasy hands on my thighs while the dog slouches in a corner licking her chops, and I come across an e-mail invitation to a CD release party to celebrate the launch of Matthew McConaughey’s new record label.

I’ll pause for a moment to let the full horror of that image sink in: Matthew McConaughey has his own record label.

Matthew McConaughey, that handsome devil whose film career gives new meaning to the word “underperform.” Looking back over his résumé, I’m surprised to note how many good movies he’s made (at least one of them—John Sayles’ Lone Star—genuinely great). The thing is, I completely forgot he was in any of them. What comes to mind, thinking about the guy, is a string of financial or artistic debacles (Amistad, The Newton Boys, Sahara); his terrible performance (and wardrobe) in Contact; the dead-eyed sleepwalking through interchangeable rom-coms. When Failure to Launch opened, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a documentary about McConaughey’s career arc.

Remember, this was a dude who, after his breakthrough performance in Dazed and Confused, was touted as a New Leading Man. His rugged good looks and laid-back charm drew comparisons to the titans of Old Hollywood—Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Cary Grant. Instead, he’s turned out to be something of a John Agar: a working actor, name above the title, sure, but not someone who can “open” a movie on his own. So what the hell happened? How did this guy, who at one point looked like a worldbeater, begin his slow slide to mediocrity? Well, listen—I’m not one to tell anybody how they should get their kicks, but let’s face it: Matthew McConaughey smokes a fuckload of pot. Now, call me crazy, but I’m thinking that might have something to do with it. Still a handsome cat, mind you, but he’s starting to get a little… resinous.

Now, when you’ve got that much THC in your system, your decision-making skills are bound to be impaired. You might even forget where you are; McConaughey seems to think he’s still living in the pre-Napster 1990s, when record labels were still remotely relevant and every celebrity was expected to have his own. (He’s also got a clothing line, which is a slightly more ’00s-era business model.)

Okay, we can argue the wisdom of that later; but what about the music? Who has been signed to j.k. livin’ Records? What undercelebrated artist will be the first to benefit from the marketing muscle of Matthew McConaughey’s name recognition factor? Choosing an artist for a boutique record label is a very personal choice, after all. So what sort of music does the M-Dawg go for, anyway? Given his massive intake of weed, disdain for personal hygiene, general air of arrested adolescence, and proclivity for late-night naked bongo jams, you might be envisioning some unholy marriage of the Dave Matthews Band and that one Bob Marley greatest-hits album that’s a staple of frat parties everywhere.

And you’d be right! Ladies and gents, wrap your ears around the acoustic skank of Mishka!

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A nomadic boat-bum of mixed Canadian and Bahamian heritage, Mishka overcame the twin hardships of being (a) white and (b) named after a magic word from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse to become a huge concert draw amongst people who have time to kill between Jimmy Buffet tours. He’s spent a decade in the music business, garnering legions of easily-pleased fans with his mellow grooves, gentle strumming, and a vocal style that can be charitably described as “not overly slick.” As the performance clip above shows, Mishka doesn’t care about bourgeois notions like “fashion” and “showmanship”—he’s putting more effort into the things that really matter, like sustaining his minstrel-show Rasta accent. Irie, mon! Natty dread him bring de jam fo I an’ I! (I have no idea what I’m saying.)

I’ll admit, I don’t know much about Mishka, and I don’t know what Matthew McConaughey is to him, but I’d be willing to bet that their relationship involves some obnoxious pun on the word bro—“Executive Bro-ducer,” perhaps, or maybe “Imbrosario.” But the appeal is obvious. Mishka doesn’t just make party music—it’s quote-unquote socially-conscious party music; the association makes a perfect balm for the conscience of an underachieving millionaire pothead. And if there’s irony in the sound of a white entertainer engaged in the rankest sort of cultural appropriation inveighing against “Babylon,” well … um … one world, man! Color totally doesn’t matter! We’re all branches of “One Tree,” can you dig?

The new record, Above the Bones, dropped this week. I missed the party at the Roxy, but a listen to the title track would seem to indicate that it’s business as usual for Mishka—perfectly enjoyable, non-threatening background music, instantly forgettable, soaked in the scents of B.O., bongwater, and white privilege. Pleasant mediocrity, in other words, with an undercurrent of disappointment. Kindred spirits will take their points of connection wherever they find ‘em, I guess.

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