STEVE MASON

 

Meet the ‘new’ Steve Mason. Newly relocated to Brighton, newly energised about working with people, now in possession of a new studio album.


‘Meet The Humans’ is an apt title for the third record under the Steve Mason name. Shot through with the renewal of that move and finding its author feeling ‘pretty victorious’, it fires out of the traps with the refrain ‘cause you can make it / don’t think this pain is forever’ and doesn’t look back, swinging musically across dance, pop, folk, dub, and deep house influences and remaining as lyrically adept and open as anything Steve has done back to the ‘Three Eps’. Whilst no ‘happy clappy’ collection, lyrically unafraid to pin its beliefs to its sleeve, ‘Meet The Humans’ is the sound of a songwriter in a purple patch, not just in artistic terms but of the whole 360, full life variety:


‘I’m a great believer in saying that you can sit around and say everything’s shit but if you do that they’ve won. They want you to sit in your house and watch X Factor or Strictly, it’s pure soma but it’s about popping into your neighbour and having a chat and setting the world to rights. It’s about little victories, small conversations that will really change the world.’


It may be no conscious thing, Steve is happy to accept that he often doesn’t know where the songs come from, yet ‘Meet The Humans’ crashes into our current divided world with its flag flying high for communication and community, there is very much such a thing as society within its eleven tracks. As a follow up to his ‘double political concept album’ ‘Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time’ this is an album that is, in true Steve Mason fashion, a reaction against that concept and a move towards a more simple ethic; ‘a song where each album is a separate entity, where there is no great narrative running through it.’  Nonetheless, to the attentive listener, if not its creator, the record repeatedly returns to core themes, the possibility of others to redeem the self, the opportunity of change for the better in the individual, the joy of life and the world we inhabit, a joy discovered by Steve with his move from ‘a cottage in the woods in Scotland’ to the creative buzz of Brighton:


‘I wanted to be around musicians and creative people more and I liked Brighton already´ he explains of the journey south. ‘I grew up by the sea and whenever I go for a walk by the sea it’s nice to hear the noise of the waves, to see the constant flow of the water, that sense of renewal, the possibilities of space that the sea offers.’


‘Meet The Humans’ began its life by the sea, two weeks in a rehearsal studio for Steve with Steve Duffield and Greg Nielsen from his touring band before swapping the beach for the canals of Salford to record and mix with Elbow keyboardist and producer Craig Potter. Placing himself in Blueprint Studios, Steve and Craig worked in the ‘big room’ familiar to followers of the producer’s day job. A vast ex-factory space with floor to ceiling windows, the presence of daylight and sense of the passage of time throughout the day allied to a space where you can get any sound made for a smooth and enjoyable six weeks from May 2015 through to early June recording and mixing the album. That sense of joint endeavour that began in Brighton continued into Blueprint and the connection between artist and producer:


‘It was great in Brighton to have that thing of looking each other when you’re playing and once we started recording, me and Craig didn’t really have to say a lot to each other, it was very intuitive. He pushed me more than I expected him to which was really exciting, when you write on your own it’s a hell of a lot of pressure and I had missed that thing of music being a communal process.’


Having assembled collaborators to create the music, a visit to an exhibition in Lewes led Steve to Olivia Bullock, a Brighton based artist and a further player in the story of the album. Over conversations about the album Olivia created the bespoke artwork that completes the piece, a wraparound of possible human figures embellished with an image that is ‘somewhere between a heart and a brain’, a correlation that he is happy to accept is the perfect metaphor for his music. For someone who grew up ‘as a kid buying records and pouring over every detail, getting excited about going into a record shop and buying records’, Olivia’s artwork was the final piece of the jigsaw, the visual stamp that finalised the whole piece.


That finished album, arguably the most complete and direct of Steve’s long discography, starts as it means to go on with the dark joke title of ‘Water Bored. ‘I was going to call it ‘Waterboard’, as in the torture thing but then I thought ‘that’s a bit negative’” it’s author chuckles. As Italo-house pianos conjure Balearic vistas, the track revolves around a lyrical refrain that ‘you can make it’, a mantra like assertion of that positivity and community discussed above and a marker for what is to come, as far removed from images of Guantanamo as you could get. This bold opening is reiterated by ‘Alive’, the following track, a melodica driven, Pablo via late 60’s Stones groove underpinning a second call to arms to kick against the pricks and, most crucially, to find a positive response to a system bent on reducing everyone to workaday automatons.  The new location may have given Steve a new take on things but that razor sharp dissection of the world’s injustices remains.


The jubilance that characterized the best of the Balearic scene is evident across the album,  whether in the horn crescendos that herald the arrival of the chorus of ‘Another Day’ and close out ‘Alright’ or the trance like synths that dot first single ‘Planet Sizes’, a track that somehow manages to mix a fiercely tempo driven verse, all heartbeat pianos like the best deep house, with a glorious expanding chorus that is the musical equivalent of the sun breaking the clouds on the most beautiful spring day.


Alongside the feet shifting grooves, ‘Meet The Humans’ deploys a set of sumptuous ballads. ‘Like Water’, a false close to the album prior to the gear shift of actual closer ‘Words In My Head’, comes in all string swoops and piano stabs, framing the bittersweet uplift of a repetitive chorus line:


‘It’s been here from the start / This darkness in my heart/ Let you know / When I fall apart’


that encapsulates the album’s ability throughout to convert darkness to light and swell the heart through melody, a perfect example of how, to Steve’s mind, ‘Sometimes you can have the simplest lyrics but the melody can make it break your heart’.


‘Ran Away’, with its starker, more stripped sound and ‘Hardly Go Through’ both dial down the obvious uplifts yet, at their core, retain those little touches that lighten the darkness, the former deploying a swelling strings coda that proffers  a sense of peace and contentment, the latter bathing us in waves of ambient white noise that soften the lyrical blows. That sense of ambience reaches its apogee with ‘Through The Window’, a spectral sonnet that shimmers with fragility and sparkles with barely there beauty.


If that is simplicity in its most fragile sense, ‘Meet The Humans’ also contains pop in its most straightforward sense. ‘To A Door’ is a track that Steve had originally written for Kristina Train yet never saw the light of day. A bubbling melody and handclap rhythm allow the voices to deliver a country flecked duet that aims squarely at the heart; it is a spellbinding moment in an album full of gorgeous melodies.


With ‘Words In My Head’ ending the album on hip hop beats and trance grooves this supposedly unconnected collection of songs finds its binding principles restated, its eleven personal stories combined into one positive and proper whole, the sweep of the human condition written large and full of love and hope and joy. That collision of traditional songwriting, the echoes of deep house classicism, ambient soundscape and folk confessional ally to create eleven songs that form a complete piece, an album that reiterates Steve Mason’s position as a songwriter and lyricist of the highest talent, a sonic adventurer and artist of the truest kind, now firmly and clearly ‘victorious’ in his art.