Review: Steve Mason – Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time
Published on March 29th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
2010 album Boys Outside was a surprising show of cohesiveness from Steve Mason, whose work both with The Beta Band and as King Biscuit Time made a glorious strength of sprawling eclecticism. Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time substitutes out its predecessor’s crisp, Richard X produced R&B for a crunchier, more organic feel, all the while mixing things up as he’d been wont to do previously, and doing so with a confidence we hope indicates that he’s in a good place.
“Lie Awake” smokily inhabits that buzzing realm between wake and sleep, brooding gently on a jazzily descending bass line, before chirpy little interlude “Flyover ’98” confirms a very different listening experience to that of Boys Outside in store, tooting merrily and introducing atmospheric vintage motor sounds. The ensuing “A Lot of Love” is perhaps the most ‘commercial’ sounding thing Mason’s done to date, affectingly ruing “Was there a lot of love for me, or did I let it go?”, and this is gleefully followed by the Scalextric-assisted reggae-dub of “The Last of the Heroes”, bringing to mind of course 2011’s Ghosts Outside project with Dennis Bovell.
A gospel choir is roped in for the slowly rolling soul stomp of “Lonely”, Mason’s history of depression cropping up in lines like “I’m lonely in my head / Fifteen years sitting in my bed” – once again, we can but hope that “There’s a passage through the black / Is there sunlight through the crack?” (from the Screamadelica-meets-“Sweet Home Alabama”-sounding “Oh My Lord”) is a tip of the hat to better times. Mason does indeed sound as is he’s enjoying himself on Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time, resulting in a steady stream of unexpected twists and turns such as the throbbing bass line of the instrumental “Safe Population”, the Mogwai-isms of “Goodbye Youth” and the heavy lounging, politically charged MC Mystro guest vocal of “More Money, More Fire”.
“Fight Them Back” is perhaps the pick of the bunch, throwing staccato strings and lines like “I gathered all you people here today / To have you read aloud the words I cannot say” over an agreeably loping groove, before reminding of “Life” from classic Beta Band LP Hot Shots II with its call-to-arms chorus of “You get up and fight them back / A fist, a boot and a baseball cap”. After that, “Towers of Power” manages to sound deep ‘n’ dark in spite of its clapping ’90s “dance” beat, confirming Steve Mason’s ability to make most anything sound good. It’s a pity he “fucking hates [us] all”, because Rocksucker has “A Lot of Love” for his continuingly excellent recorded output.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!
Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time is out now on Double Six Records. For more information, please visit the official Steve Mason website.