Music

'About the Light' Is Steve Mason at His Most Confident

Photo courtesy of Domino Records

These are songs that suggest that this is how Steve Mason has always wanted Steve Mason to sound.

About the Light
Steve Mason

Domino

18 January 2019

On new album About the Light, Steve Mason comes across as an artist unafraid of the obvious. Rather than look for the new, he instead manages to put a fresh spin on old sounds. Buoyed by finding love, becoming a father, and settling in Brighton, Mason channels the positivity in his life on songs that capture the joy of simply making music. Joined by legendary producer Stephen Street, the pair pan for pop gold and between them uncover golden nugget after golden nugget on his most celebratory and immediate album to date.

Opener "America Is Your Boyfriend" starts with the slow swell of swampy brass, cowbell and gently strummed acoustic guitars. The song would appear to be a comment on Anglo-American relations but one that doesn't get bogged down in the polemic at the expense of a thrillingly euphoric hook. Mason pulls the whole thing together in glorious fashion with a unifying, uplifting refrain of "We believe in Life" before the song bursts into life with a chorus of "This is the lie / This is your smile / America is your Boyfriend." Throughout, Mason harnesses the power of the brass section as he encourages it to grow before curtailing it, only to let it off the leash completely in the final third as brass and guitar thrillingly trade blows.

Over a delayed, drum beat, clean guitar and the familiar, and welcome, appearance of a melodica, Mason gracefully whispers in his characteristic higher register on "Rocket". Whereas on some of his past solo work, this might have marked a fragile exploration of his darker mental state, here he sounds confident and bolstered by where he finds himself in life. His only concern now seemingly being how to articulate his feelings for the special people in his life. Like many of the songs on the album, there is a jubilant, pop melody just waiting around the corner as the trumpets swell and the guitar drifts in to take the whole thing home on a swaggering wave of euphoria.

"No Clue" shows what an underrated rhythm guitar player Mason is as his quick guitar chord changes and R.E.M. jangly notes frame his more direct delivery with each syllable toppling into the next like the steady fall of dominos. The title track captures an exuberant mix of blues, rock 'n' roll, and soul that together wouldn't sound out of place on Exile on Main Street. It finds Mason at his most playful with instruments weaving in and out of the song until descending piano notes take the song to it's memorable vocal hook of "get out your life and go home". In the context of Mason's career, it's something of a bold move as he sticks as closely to a traditional rock 'n' roll song as he's ever done before and it comes off brilliantly.

"Fox on the Rooftop" works as an almost night time lullaby with floating keyboards and chiming guitar notes acting as a calming bed for Mason's soft vocals. It takes time to take hold before enveloping the listener in the gloriously understated melodies. "Stars Around My Heart" raises the tempo as it rides one of the best riffs on any Mason record to date. A Carlos Alomar, David Bowie Young Americans era inspired, biting riff that blazes through the song.

The muted power chords on "Spanish Brigade" signal the calm before the storm as the song builds to an exhilarating rush. It shows a directness and confidence that feels welcome and fresh and something Mason hasn't necessarily tried in his long career to date. "Don't Know Where?" is more meditative as the song opens with Mason sounding initially, in the context of this album, a little lost "I don't know where I'm going / I don't know where I've been." However, it soon becomes clear that he's simply content with the here and now rather than fretting over the past or the future.

The stomping blues blast of "Walking Away From Love" features a bone dry Bo Diddley-esque guitar riff as Mason spits out rhyming couplets with backing singers intoning the song title. Mason sounds like he's having an absolute blast as he shifts from rocking out to soulfully lifting the song skywards on a stirring, dizzying chorus. "The End" concludes the album on a fittingly positive note. Appropriately for an album that wears its pop heart on its sleeve it doesn't shy away from the chorus which is as close to indie pop perfection as Mason has ever come.

About the Light is Mason at his most confident. Having put greater distance between his situation now and the situation that saw him in the grip of crippling depression has meant he can finally just enjoy the art of writing music. As a result there are tunes here. Big tunes. There are also hooks, melodies and riffs with songs often in a hurry to reach another memorable chorus. These are songs that suggest that this is how Steve Mason has always wanted Steve Mason to sound.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.