After the politically-charged, sprawling presence of 2013’s ‘Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time’, Steve Mason has made noises in advance of this record’s release about it being more like the album his audience wanted last time out. It would certainly seem he is keen to deliver a relatively straightforward set of meticulously constructed and warmly sung pieces that hint at a far happier context for their production.
Lost love, doubt and regret ran through his superlative solo debut ‘Boys Outside’ while its aforementioned follow up raged about the social injustice spreading across the country during its creation in chaotic fashion.For ‘Meet The Humans’, Mason finds himself in more buoyant, settled spirits and, in producer Craig Potter, he has found the perfect foil for an album that revels in hopping across the genres that have featured in his 20 years of music making to date. It is a record both inspired by and built upon all that has come before.
The album’s only truly indisputable misstep is quickly dispensed with and it is simply the title of the otherwise beautiful opening track, ‘Water Bored’. It evokes memories of the smoothly shimmering majesty that made his first solo release rather beguiling in its production. ‘Alive’ nods even further back to the later stages of his former role at the helm of The Beta Band, with a swaggering rhythm, woozy melodica and several glorious moments where Mason sounds like he’s taking an emphatic run-up to certain lines. The driving presence of the acoustic guitar is replicated elsewhere, including the grandiose ‘Ran Away’ which gradually piles up the layers en route to a moment of release.
Deliberately eschewing a central construct and letting each song do as it must has worked wonders. ‘Through My Window’ is present in its initial demo form, recorded at home in Brighton and deemed not be in need of any further embellishment. It is one of the rare moments on the album where Mason’s vocal isn’t neatly foregrounded, imbued with a fragility and murkiness that suits lines like the frequently repeated refrain “is there anybody out there?” It is situated between the hazily kaleidoscopic ‘Hardly Go Through’, which churns to a euphoric wash of sound at its conclusion, and the twitchily frenetic ‘Planet Sizes’, which resolves its early unease with a twinkling chorus.
The scale of these songs is perhaps not surprising when taking into account Potter’s work with his own band, Elbow, but it is a perfect fit for an artist whose voice has remarkable textures and character that resonate so powerfully. ‘Like Water’ is driven by insistent stately piano that delivers a platform for Mason to float atop and may well have provided a fitting conclusion for the album but for one final delight.
‘Words In My Head’ has more than a nod to the early ‘90s indie-house scene, with loose but insistent percussion and a rippling synth line at its core. It is notable for concluding with the refrain “please don’t ever listen to the things that I say” as the music falls away, which feels like a gently ironic riposte to those who challenged the scope and direction of this record’s predecessor. It’s a neat little sidestep to conclude an album of great ambition and accomplishment.
‘Meet The Humans’ is not just his best solo release to date, but also arguably the finest album in which he has been involved full stop. Capable of moving and energising its audience in equal measure, Mason has refined his art to a remarkable extent. He’ll have a job bettering it, but you’d be unwise to bet against it.
Words: Gareth James
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