Jun 22, 2010 Issue #31 - Spring 2010 - Joanna Newsom
For years, Steve Mason's debt-ridden music career has been under the raised axe of the executioner. If there's any justice in this world, widespread acclaim for Boys Outside will grant a permanent stay of execution for the one-time Beta Band frontman.
Though name checked by Noel Gallagher, Thom Yorke, and John Cusack's character in High Fidelity, The Beta Band wasn't widely embraced by record buyers. The psychedelic folktronica group was often so whimsical-it seemingly named its second album, Hot Shots II, after a hapless Charlie Sheen comedy-that many listeners couldn't get past the wacky touches to appreciate the strong melodies. Faced with plummeting critical and commercial support, the Scots wryly titled their final album Heroes to Zeros.
Mason needn't resort to gallows humor any longer. Boys Outside is a confident, stripped-down affair that benefits from the pop smarts of co-producer Richard X (Sugababes). The first single, "Lost and Found," pivots on a frisky piano figure over a loping rhythm. "All Come Down" is acoustic adult pop framed with soft-hued beats. Best of all, "The Letter" boasts an orchestral chorus that swoops in like a cavalry rescue. There's plenty of leftfield experimentation, too. On "Yesterday," keyboard notes echo like pings of sonar, while a pensive bassline reverberates in one's ribcage.
Mason always had an appealing voice, but it's never been as soulfully expressive as it is here. Chalk that up to life experience. "I pay no mind to all the broken dreams/I say I'll never fall in love again," he laments on "I Let Her In."
Unlike Mason's previous pseudonymous solo projects, Boys Outside has commercial potential to cross over to fans of David Gray and Damien Rice. (www.stevemasontheartist.com)
Author rating: 8/10
Average reader rating: 9/10