BEST OF 2013: 23. Steve Mason – Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time

Dear reader, please forgive me. I do get it wrong sometimes. This is, after all, only subjective musings on music. When you have seven days to get to know a record that’s been emailed to you as a collection of mp3s, it can, on occasion, just be the wrong seven days. I love writing really gnarly reviews, and one particular person I write for is always delighted when he gets a 3/10 drop into his inbox, but they’re not the ones that haunt you. Nobody plays back a record they thought was total dogshit only to realise it is in fact the Second Coming. Unless it’s ‘The Second Coming’, of course. No, the ones that weigh heavy on the mind are those where you find an album mutates from decent enough to outstanding. Yes, thankfully, it’s rare. But it does happen. And ‘Monkey Minds…’ was one such example. I gave it a 7 out of 10, for Christ’s sake, which doesn’t seem like the most apocalyptic visitation of hellfire one might dish out towards an artist, but it still rankles. More specifically, it’s this bit that bugs me:

“Mason says he doesn’t care what labels, critics or even fans think of this political album, but sometimes misguided tunnel-vision can be rather hubristic.  It’s not the lyrical content that rankles, but eleven self-produced, largely forgettable, shorter tracks surrounding nine fully fleshed-out songs. There’s a 9/10 album in here somewhere waiting to be let out.”

 

I truly believed it at the time. I read it over and over, having truly adored Steve Mason‘s first solo album proper Boys Outside’, and decided it was accurate. But I kept playing it, which was the first sign I might have been a little hasty. Because, ladies and gents, this is a bloody impressive record, no less beautiful than that very special debut and well-realised enough to not need trimming down to appease fidgety attention spans. It would seem the 9/10 album made it out over the course of the last few months. The dubby piano, heart-melting harmonies and swaggering beats that were so key to the majesty of both his work with The Beta Band and ‘Boys Outside’ are all here, but with a neat sense of progress.

This is a far more confident record than its predecessor. It’s angry, too. The shorter pieces which weave in amongst the more sonically familiar tracks are actually at the heart of this record. And THAT is what I didn’t grasp in my early listens. They’re not window dressing and they’re not throwaway – they’re the glue. They allow Mason to tackle topics head on, pulling together a collage of political and philosophical lyrics. ‘Fire’ is an all out assault reflecting on the London Riots but it works all the more powerfully because of ‘More Money More Fire’, a bristling rap precursor on the same subject.

This album is something of a seething call to arms. Disbelief, anger and inspiration mix to potent effect across twenty tracks that should be heard together. It’s a tricky album to capture – and, hey, this is already my second attempt – but it remains riveting. I’m truly glad I persevered with it and I suspect the relationship will only endure. Plenty of people have told me it clicked immediately with them, but don’t be surprised if a little time is required. And, perhaps, don’t mention hubris, eh? Ahem.

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