Music

Mason Proper: Olly Oxen Free

Mason Proper's second album is a focused, brisk effort. Lasting only 37 minutes, this is atmospheric low-rock with a dark edge and bursts of punk energy.


Mason Proper

Olly Oxen Free

Label: Dovecote
US Release Date: 2008-09-23
UK Release Date: Available as import
Website
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Michigan's Mason Proper is back with Olly Oxen Free, their second album. With only ten songs clocking in at a brisk 37 minutes, the band's brevity works to their advantage. This is a focused, atmospheric low-rock album with dark edges and occasional bursts of punk energy. The five-piece band takes full advantage of their two guitars and keyboards setup to provide a lot of variety from song to song. But it's Jonathan Visger's distinctive voice that is most responsible for Mason Proper's compelling sound.

The album opens with soft organ chords, a slow-picked guitar line, and a mid-tempo driving drumbeat in "Fog". Visger's high-pitched voice seems to slide in and out of focus as he sings "I tried to warn you / But you're out of your head". It's a quiet but compelling start that is quickly followed up with "Point A to Point B", a more traditional pop song that is nevertheless in a minor key and colored by regret. Visger's voice has a tinge of melancholy here, and a line like "In past lives I was wealthy, so probably unhappy / I'm so glad I died" actually works in this context instead of sounding ridiculous.

The middle of the album features a trio of interesting songs. "Only a Moment" grooves along like a lost Spoon song, with a huge backbeat and a great break where Visger belts out "Don't worry / don't wooooorrrry!" The second half of the song features a brief moment where the drums go into double-time and a syncopated guitar riff deepens the initial groove. "Out Dragging the River" is the album's warmest moment, with a simple but effective piano line from Matt Thomson. Visger's emotional performance manages to bring maximum plaintiveness out of lines like, "I'm think I'm through with the fighting / Chop off my heavy, heavy head". Next up, "In the Mirror" is short and spare, with a single guitar and a simple beat on the bass drum and what sounds like a stick against a metal pole. It contrasts the previous song by sounding cold and distant.

The seventh track, "Downpour", is a bit of a misstep. It has a bit of a spy-movie feel, but the song doesn't seem to go anywhere and feels interminably long at nearly five minutes. "Shiny" may have Visger's most oddball vocal performance. He pushes his voice in another direction, sounding alternately like Jack White and the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano. Too bad the uptempo, punky song doesn't work as well musically. It's filled with random sounds and randomly recurring riffs over a simple, boring drumbeat that wears out its welcome early on. "Alone", the album's penultimate song, fares much better. Visger does his best impression of Les Savy Fav's Tim Harrington, delivering his lyrics in a high-pitched yelp. It's bracing and effective, and the song's energy works much better than on "Shiny". "Safe for the Time Being" closes out the disc on a low-key note similar to how it began. It also brushes up against the five-minute mark, but is more engaging than "Downpour".

Mason Proper is at their best when the band's music complements Jonathan Visger's melancholy lyrics. Visger is a compelling singer, and the band seems to know it. Most of Olly Oxen Free exploits this relationship to great effect. Visger and Brian Konicek's guitar lines intertwine with Thomson's keyboard work to create interesting soundscapes, while drummer Garrett Jones shines on several songs with his creative beats. Although the album has a couple of minor downturns, it's a very strong record overall, with a lot of variety. Yet this song-to-song variety still retains a unified feel, so Olly Oxen Free sounds like a cohesive effort.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image