This is the second release from Beta Band vocalist Stephen Mason under the King Biscuit Time moniker. And just in case you missed his first outing (the snappily titled EP, King Biscuit Time Sings Nelly Foggit’s Blues in “Me and the Pharaohs”), then you’re in luck, since it comes bundled with Mason’s new material on No Style.
Although Mason is on his own here, this solo venture displays the same penchant for diverse sounds that characterizes the work of the Beta Band. Effortlessly blending simple electronic pop, ambient nuances, hints of psychedelia, idiosyncratic folk and much more, No Style is a multi-flavored, habit-forming nugget.
The opening cut—“I Walk the Earth”—would be a huge hit in a world where intelligent, no-frills, no-attached-product pop was given its due. While such a scenario might be an absurd proposition at this point in music history, it doesn’t alter the fact that this downbeat but downright infectious song gets you humming along and nodding your head from the get-go. With its basic hip-hop beats and spare instrumentation—bonded together with the melodic glue of Mason’s laid-back vocals—this is one of those songs that find their way into your head and get stuck there.
While “I Love You” takes an ambient approach to the subtle ebb and flow of Mason’s overdubbed one-man chorus, “Time to Get Up” is more straightforward with its prominent repeating phrases of guitar and harmonica. On “Fatheriver,” Mason’s chanted vocals echo over drum-and-bass-lite accompaniment. Actually, it’s more drum than bass, the ponderous low end almost stationary amid the skittering rush. The driving Can/23 Skidoo-esque instrumental “Niggling Discrepancy,” on the other hand, redresses the balance. Here, pulsing bass holds its own in the face of rolling drums and big percussion, all topped off with the dub inflections of what appear to be dueling melodicas.
The sonic diversity of King Biscuit Time is underscored particularly by the differences between the two closing songs on No Style. “Little White” is a slight, fragile track blessed with the lo-fi charm and melancholy depth of Robert Wyatt circa Dondestan. In contrast, “Eye o’ the Dug” is a playful cartoon folk song with (what seem to be) speeded-up vocals. If the Laughing Gnome and Pinky and Perky had hooked up and listened to Syd Barrett then they would have written this track. Ah yes, and then there’s the woofing—you might have thought that Euros Childs of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci was barking mad with his canine impersonation on “Poodle Rockin’,” but on this waggish track Stephen Mason shows that he’s not averse to some doggy stylings either.
The title of this mini-LP might suggest otherwise, but King Biscuit Time has a lot of style or, more accurately, a lot of styles. If you’re up for some genre-hopping, thinking person’s pop then this release is just the ticket.
// Notes from the Road
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