words by Jeff Milo
With this record, it is night out –
the orange glare of the street lights effects the bumpy rain-soaked pavement echoing the footsteps of cross-walkers now indoors -
and now the dark milieu glows apathetic and unnatural; and the sound comes in...the pedal-stretched guitars and thick chiming synths blare detached like ominous unseen sirens in the distance of the uninspired suburbia. Cars sit stoic along the curbs as televisions flicker behind living room windows and all seems so quiet and sudden…the rest of the world turns off for the night.
But with this record, we view it all through rain-beaded windows from inside this sparse but comforting room, upclose with Ann Arbor quintet Mason Proper. The sound of Olly Oxen Free rushes up to you and winds around, it is close and intimate and warm…with a real groove.
We're right here with them, seated inches away from the guitar; we're standing over the hollow-pounding drum kits; our heads lull a bit from side to side with each warbled synth wave and we're so close to the mic we could shout out our own back-up vocals onto the tape at any instant, if we wanted...
The whole record burns slowly from front to back with this beautiful sparse groove. There's a devastation to the sound – it's been blown around and stretched and exploded by all the nonsense fried-run-around of the day's bullshit and now we're in the cool (but not necessarily smooth) come-down to a somber and reflective furrow. It's stripped of overbearing fuzz-out-frivolity and guitar-glory-pop and sometimes tiring rock-chugging feedback walls. It just pounds and drives and swoons.
The melodies are often humble streams flitting inconspicuously but still declaratively over backdrops of heavy insuppressible rhythm. My word, the rhythm. Everything is given space – see "Only A Moment," where an organ pound burst through to steady drums under a haunting gutting guitar riff – the bass starts getting more room to breath and boom as the vocals float in unassuming for a few measures before sinking up with a fierce gritty riff. On "Fog," the organs are calming but the drums are pensive – meditative, yet unavoidably agitated by an undeniable longing...escapism so poetically clung to the serene, yet still aware of the numbing existence of that jumbled rat-race world we view through the Mason Proper window, far from disregarding it, but made, played and sung--because of that empty reality…in reaction to it…watching all these business people, being polite and shaking hands…and realizing, I am a totally different person when I am alone…("Alone" – with unique percussive style showcased.)
The instrumentation blends together wonderfully…the rolling drums under churning organs and ghostly synths that float and percolate the senses. Middle-piece "Dragging The River" highly emphasizes the narratives infatuation with the stark and gutteral – starting out with what sounds like pounding on a door (to the room we're settled in…) and then some muffled voices in the corner…before a solitary pounding keyboard note starts marching forward…growing into a swooning whirl as the bass and drums fall in and the airy-but-poignant vocals set upon you: "he wrote it with a crabbed hand / an ageless plastic poem but no one needs to read it / it's nothing we don't already know / cause we're out dragging the river / trying to find something missing / but everyone we know is here / and nothing that we have is gone…."
……trying to find something missing
…Because in this solemn statement of aerodynamic grooves and subtle but intricate guitar statements, we find that in an age of gmail chat – we can still feel, we can still share, we can still drift a bit to wherever we want and reminisce of chasing fireflies..., but in order to feel, to share - we must find each other first – Hence, the call-out, Olly Oxen Free!! -To meet each other in the fog…the ominous fog…and together make sense.
It both emphasizes the distance most of us feel toward that dystopic-night-world of quiet day-jobbers we view and reminds us that we don't have to grow cold because of it…it is tempered by a hopeful atmosphere, the warm fuzz symphony of the five musicians in a room coalescing, with every click, blip, buzz and vocal feeling so upfront, and still at times satisfyingly blitzing with an acerbic shred ("Shiny") or swaggering with bob-n-weave vocals over spindly guitars and piano/synths ("Lock and Key") or that sweet, arresting groove that rides the strength of the rhythm ("Downpour").
A night time philosophic chill…and a fuck-all towards all that messy madness out there in the daytime – for many of us, we come to life at night cuz we feel free finally from those loud often weightless trappings. But, with this record, you're able to hold onto that rejuvenating daydream-feeling through the day (and not just during the night when you clock out and you can get back to your guitar or your notebook).
You find out what makes sense…
(2008, Dovecote Records)
3. Lock and Key
CD Release Show - 9 / 25 Blind Pig, Ann Arbor w/ Silent Years and Novel Citizen