A tendency to eclecticism and experimentation is a double-edged sword for a musician, when it works it is nothing short of astounding, but when it doesn’t, the results end up confused and confusing. Steve Mason has just such a tendency, which is commendable and was deployed to great effect as a member of The Beta Band, but, with his latest solo release, Meet The Humans, it acts to distract from his strong song-writing abilities, as with album opener Water Bored.
Mason doesn’t hit his stride with Meet The Humans until the fourth song, Another Day, which is emotionally compelling and deploys an eclectic assortment of instrumentation (guitar, drums, organ, horns, piano), with a constantly shifting musical arrangement, to underscore and augment the lyrical content. One it left wondering whether Mason is paying homage to the cult sci-fi western, Firefly when he sings “don’t send me back to the black/because this time I might never come back”, or if he is considering the toll of recurrent bouts of depression. Mid-song Mason takes a menacing detour with the repeated line “told you about the letter/that I buried in the sack” which is sung over a guitar riff that strongly counterpoints the upbeat musicality of the song’s start and end.
Run Away showcases Mason’s song-writing skills, seeing his contemplative lyrics set against a more minimal arrangement of piano and acoustic guitar with string swells augmenting the mood perfectly, especially during the song’s bridge. Hardly Go Through tonally matches Run Away, yet manages to feature a more upbeat, and less sparse, arrangement. Planet Sizes was a great choice for lead single, with its booming piano riff hooking the listener early on, creating a solid base from which Mason can explore thematic variations and experiment with strong juxtaposition by throwing in an uber-pop chorus and bridge. It is disappointing that the beautifully sparse, Through My Window – being composed predominately of two repeated guitar and piano chords, and Mason’s lyrics and vocals displaying a satisfying fragility – was not selected to close Meet The Humans, with that honour instead going to the trip-hop infused Words In My Head.
If the five or six strongest songs were all there was, Meet The Humans would represent a near perfect EP or mini-album but, as an album, it feels like Mason let the excitement of everything he could do get in the way of his better judgement as a songwriter.