Wednesday, 13 March 2013

album reviews: steve mason, marnie stern, harper simon

                                                    Steve Mason – Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time

Steve Mason - Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time (****)

In both breadth and depth, Steve Mason’s new opus is a lot to assay. A far-reaching concept album with an ardent heart, it’s driven thematically by fiery dissent and musically by restless exploration. Its 20-track girth helps facilitate this diversity, as Mason interlinks a core set of songs with an array of wing-spreading vignettes: from slivers of moody dub to pointed speech samples; collages of palette-cleansing noise to a piquant guest spot from London MC Mystro, dissecting the London riots to a sturdy backbeat.

The longer offerings display as much inspiration, with A Lot of Love’s blissful introspection, Lonely’s gracious gospel and Fight Them Back’s impassioned rallying cry but three of the many highlights. Sequenced with a raconteur’s exactitude, the narrative that forms has both definition and emotional heft (with closer Come to Me possibly the album’s most affecting five minutes), conveying an uncommon integrity and re-affirming Mason’s invigorating talents.

Out 18th March

                                                         Marnie Stern – Chronicles of Marnia

Marnie Stern - The Chronicles of Marnia (****)

With Marnie Stern’s signature sound long honed to a tee, Chronicles of Marnia sees the voyage of this born shredder take a turn for the less frenetic. Though still rooted in jaw-dropping fretwork, the intensity has shifted down a gear, and the relative lightness is flattering.

A personnel change plays a part in this refreshment, with Zach Hill vacating the kit to focus squarely on Death Grips after three albums by Stern’s side. His replacement is no technical slouch himself (to put it mildly), but Kid Millions’ comparatively reserved contributions suit the album’s clarity, with toned-down polyrhythms affording Stern’s songwriting more space to breathe. Indeed, tracks like Nothing Is Easy are Stern’s poppiest yet - though that doesn’t mean she’s lost her hard edge, as pacey opener Year of the Glad testifies. The cleaner aesthetic may shed a fan or two, but Stern’s set to replace them with a whole heap more.

Out 18th March

                                                      Harper Simon – Division Street

Harper Simon - Division Street (***)

It would be easy to see the calibre of guest musicians on Division Street – including members of The Strokes, Elvis Costello’s Attractions, Wilco and Bright Eyes – and cynically conclude that being the son of a star doesn’t half help grease the wheels. But such an assumption pays Harper ‘son of Paul’ Simon a massive disservice, with his music more than strong enough to stand on its own two feet.

His vintage rock/country/folk style isn’t overly concerned with originality, but breezily up-tempo tracks like Nothing Gets Through convey an inherited ear for melody and a knack for rendering same-old sounds newly inviting. Crisp production transmits a slick but not misplaced confidence, and while the lack of surprises stunts Division Street’s memorability, it gets in its share of peaks before attentions wane, from the throbbing bassline and garage guitar of Dixie Cleopatra, to quiet closer Leaves of Golden Brown.

Out 25th March

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