Saturday 13 April 2013

Steve Mason - Monkey Minds In The Devils Time

Steve Mason was an original member of The Beta Band.  Formed in 1996, they played a mix of rock, folk, elctronica and had a large experimental ethos to their work.  They were often highly rated by the critics and went on to achieve cult status. (does this mean they didn't sell many records?) 
After releasing 3 albums and a compilation album of their 3 EPs (unsurprisingly titled 'The Three EPs'), the band split in 2004.
After the break-up, Steve Mason continued on a solo career releaaing albums under the moniker of King Biscuit Time and Black Affair, before the release of his first solo album under his own name in 2009.

This release is either his second or third album, depending upon your viewpoint.
His first release was 'Boys Outside', and his susequent release was 'Ghosts Outside', which is in effect a dub reworking of the first album.

'Monkey Minds In The Devils Time' is (apparently) a Buddhist term for 'easily distracted mind' and perhaps offers a clue to part of  the conceptual nature of this album.
The press release states that the album is: “shaped by the current global political climate and the lack of dissenting voices in music and popular culture in general”.
What you get is a collection of 9 songs, and 11 interludes/connectors between them.  There is an eclectic mixture of sounds and styles.  Aside from the aforementioned rock, folk and elctronica, we are also served a Gospel chorus, Hip Hop, 1960s/70s four to the floor funk, and a highly effective Motown Soul meets Primal Scream horn section.
On the face of it, these diverse styles may jar against each other, but the inclusion of the interludes between full length tracks make it all work together (and for full effect, it does need to be listened to in one go).

The first full track "Lie Awake" sets the tone for the album, if at first appearing downbeat and melancholic with a comtemplative lyric.  "A Lot of Love" is a piano-based song which is both reflective and melodic.    Special mention also goes to the absolutely joyous and uplifting Gospel Chorus on "Lonely".

High point of the album is undoubtedly "Oh My Lord" - it is one of those songs that you are convinced you've probably heard before, and after a couple of listens takes up permanent residence in a part of your brain.
The second half of the album (I'm defining "Oh My Lord" (the best track here) as the splitting point) continues in the same vein.  Strong songs coupled with musical interludes to ensure the listener doesn't lose interest, "Fight Them Back" being both the best of the bunch, and probably the most confrontational song here.  By contrast, The final track "Come To Me" is laid-back, warm tender and sounds full of optimism.

This is an album that has been thought about, carefully put together, and listening to it in full is a wonderfully immersive experience.  In fact, I thought it was THAT good, when it finished I immediately played it again.

"Oh My Lord"

"Towers Of Power / Come To Me"

It is now April 2013, approximately one third through the year, and I now own 2 albums (this one and David Bowie's "The Next Day") which are likley to be vying for the accolade 'Album Of The Year'

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