Wildly talented Scot offer up acoustic licks… with a twist
Deadly earnest, dull but worthy singer/songwriter types we have quite enough of thank you very much. If anyone so much as suggests that the former Beta Band frontman and solo artist of some repute is of such persuasion I’ll have you fed to the cats.
Listen to pretty much anything Mason has been involved with, from the 1997 debut Beta Band EP ‘Champion Versions’ to the spun-out blips and beeps of King Biscuit Time (See ‘I Walk The Earth’ for maximum pleasure) and the lone Black Affair collaborative long-player with one-time Warp glitch artist Jimmy Edgar and you are facing down seriously original talent.
There is a moment on this, the third solo album under his own name, that even if you’ve never heard of Steve Mason will tell you almost everything you need to know. It’s the last track, ‘Words In My Head’. A huge shuffling beat rattles away and underneath, subtle as heck, there’s a dub siren pinging away like a lost submarine. The cut is incongruous here to say the least, more of which in a moment, but those dub leanings, the ones that appeared fully formed when his 2011 album ‘Boys Outside’ came with a storming bonus disc of dubs by reggae legend Dennis Bovell, they speak volumes.
Here is a man who clearly understands his electronic music and that understanding is on everything he touches, even if, as here, that is his most acoustic outing for some time. By his own admission ‘Meet The Humans’ is a move towards a more simple ethic, “an album where each song is a separate entity,” he says. In short, he’s penned an album of personal tales that, in the words of his people, are “full of love and hope and joy”. And in producing arguably his most direct outing he has served up something that is anything but.
Recorded in a big old floor-to-ceiling windowed former Salford factory space and produced by Elbow keyboardist Craig Potter, it is drenched with Mason inventivity (which is a made-up word, but it seems to do the job, right?). The results aren’t even on the same planet as dance music nor are they particularly electronic come to that, but fans of both will surely appreciate the man at work.
There’s all sorts going on here. On opener ‘Water Bored’ he tackles a piano like house music tackles a piano and revisits the trick on ‘Planet Sizes’, ‘Alright’ is almost shoegaze-y, all washes of drenched guitars and tip-toeing strings that repeat over and over, swirling to a delicious crescendo, while ‘Another Day’, with its shaker-shaker rhythm, hand-claps and infectious sing-along chorus is a treat. The real killer though is the insistent ‘Hardly Go Through It’, which builds and builds, piling the sound up, huge swells of strings, repeating its motif over and over until it hooks you in, line and sinker. Oh, and the best of the little moments besides the dub siren? When the piano-led ballad ‘Through My Window’ reaches its conclusion and jumps, like a scratch on vinyl. Nice touch sir.
In a career that has spanned almost two decades and has already produced a number of enviably good outings, you get the feeling that with ‘Meet The Humans’ Steve Mason is only just beginning to hit his stride.