Friday, April 11, 2014

You Wake Up And... (Album Review / Life Review)

Scott Masson - Pink Oil 

And you wake up one day, hey, you’re 30.

What’s the big deal? It’s un-nameable, intangible; it’s some phantom perception foisted upon you from the eerie echoes of media detritus, dry crumbles of bad movies and petty magazines and dastard marketing mechanisms zapped into your brain now tumbling out of your ears and onto your pillow case as you wake up on this day, the day that you’re 30… And you feel some kind of excision… Youth, right? What was that, anyway…if just the time were you were excused for being foolish, patronized for being capricious and condescended for being romantically thoughtless in your waltzes onto alcohol-stained floors where you would be slowly and unknowingly fostering your own nostalgia-projects to later to look back upon, like on this day, the day that you’re 30…

…But I’m really here to write about a new album that’s coming out, made by a man who lives down the street from me. Beauty forged in a basement. Bewildering blends of varying emotions –all of them invigorating if at times turbulent – driving rhythms charging smooth, creamy new-wave-feeling synthesizer swoons that tide against samples of regal strings, moody pop melodies come down like warm sunrays and settle so easy upon the ears, true earworms that can bewitch you into carefree movement, your hips, your feet, your shoulders just loosen and your head just starts bobbing but then…what’s with that vocoder crinkling up the pitch, what’s with that Tin Pan Alley-inspired jazz ditty that cuts in between the verses, what the hell is with that Whitney Huston sample?

This album speaks to the delirium and the peace I feel today, the day I turn 30. I’m happy in a strange way that helps me understand the difference between sureness and smug self-satisfaction and I’m upset in a fresh way that doesn’t feel negative or panicky.

There’s a song on Scott Masson’s new album called “Blue Valley Fog.” Just let that title evoke its daydreamy phantasmagoria in your brain before I go into it. The bass buzzes with such instigation, churning along with punchy beats bidding you to run before the hook on those cymbals rears you into the rhythm and it becomes this sublime dance-pop comet streaming a radiant tail of icy space-stuff shimmering through the quieter bridge… “Everyday I fall apart… diving through the loudest silence…”

You wake up and you’re 30 and you start thinking about life because that’s how the culture has conditioned you to thusly react… But what’s life? Precisely. You wake up and you’re 30 and you have no fucking idea what to think of life which is why you can’t get back to sleep.

And you’ve been a music journalist for 10 years now and stagger at reflections upon your anthropological documentation of melodramatic, cool, crazy, tireless, uncertain-yet-certain, surrealist-inclined creative-types and their recorded creations cut in 3 or 4-minute increments varyingly following or defying a style or a formula or a tradition known as… What? Rock? Rap? Dance? Pop? What do you call all this noise? What do you call life? You don’t know why, truly, precisely, scientifically, chemically, evidently…why…you still love music –just like you don’t know why,  still, you still search for some kind of enlightenment in this strange show called Life.  

But you know singers and musicians and writers and producers who have been dancing their way through the same tempestuous ballet…

…and WAIT A MNINUTE. Track 8 (“Grimsby’s Silver Circus”) just started playing in my headphones and an eerie pipe organ grinded its wispy way from my left ear bud panned into the right and now I’m tromping my way through a murky opening verse set to a slow waltz and drums and guitars boom above, sounding gigantic, while the melody swirls around like cotton-candy and then things get really crazy… More of an oompa-rag beat and jingling pianos shuffle under a carnival barker invites you to join “a world of magical splendor and horrrrrible chaos…hurry hurry hurry!”

Splendor…chaos. It’s that sense that I’m feeling today, that this record: Pink Oil –is encouraging me to embrace. I’m finding a kinship to the surety of its strangeness.

But yes, this is mostly a pop record; there’s measured pours of purple goth and fogged shoegaze, there’s charms of dreamy new-wave with those inviting dance-if-you-feel-like-it grooves, but there’s also straight-up blazing guitars and revving drums leaving one no other recourse but to bang one’s head or just stomp one’s foot.

Oh…and the vocals? Rich, like the dark green of late Spring’s suburban lawns speckled with dew glistening against the sunrise, inviting like the breeze of a summer night coaxing you out for one last bike ride just before midnight when most of the city’s turning in and shutting the hell-up already and you can have the street to yourself. The man knows what’s catchy – but it’s not contrived; he knows which melodies just hum like sugary ecstasy but it’s not insipid… There’s a time and a place for a good ol’ “Ooh Ooh OOOOooohh” to loop around your guitar riffs and he knows just when to sneak it in…with subtlety. And wait, did he just croon into the faded sample of a baroque sonata …

But yeah, the album’s all over the place. You fall into scenes of shining cities, strutting through parking lots and floating through memories and shuffling through tweets in the span of three verses. 

You’re “Making The Rounds…” a perfect closer and appropriately spanning nearly 8 minutes. “I turn the page / I change my ways / and started to come back around…” If you listen closely, you’ll hear his confession of basement breakdowns and party freakouts… but it isn’t quiet, you hear his heart poured out as though the you’re capsized under a cresting wave carrying a full ensemble of an orchestra’s instruments roaring their varying timbres in a musical squall. Or something like that. Scott Masson’s donning a wardrobe’s worth of musical tropes – it’s a crazy costume party, derby hats, spats on the shoes, torn denim, mouse-spray and boas, ray ban sunglasses and maybe some flannel… cravats? Glowsticks? Yes…but through it all… heart.

You’ve heard all this before…like you’ve never heard before………

What is the ode, the melody, the anthem, of a sensitive and sentimental heart beating its way through a ruthless and all-too-short life of #EverythingAllTheTime-isms. What’s expected of you? To be as strange and as sure of yourself as you could ever be… to put the puzzle pieces together in a way that’s not overtly defiant or childishly sarcastic…

You wake up and your 30 and you listen to a perfectly wonderful and emotional pop record that splashes together a lot of disparate musical elements in a staggeringly meticulous balance (it closes out with a techno-beat but fades before the rave sets on…) and then…the puzzle starts to make sense… Not to you, reader, but, to me…and to Scott Masson.

So that’s that…

…for now. 

No comments: