A return to form of sorts and a solidification of For Against's key elements, Mason's California Lunch Room sees the departure of bassist Jeff Gaskins and the shifting of Jeffrey Runnings back to bass as Steven Hinrichs assumes the lone guitar duties. The production here is certifiably improved from Aperture's tinny din, an almost syrupy mix that accentuates the band's assets without sounding too polished. In regard to sound, it's a couple shades more gray than Kitchens of Distinction's Strange Free World. The band sounds more durable and is tougher sounding; Runnings continues his development into a versatile vocalist, able to be more sing-songy and pop-influenced with each release. Thankfully doing away with the "get the vocals started immediately" trick that hampered Aperture, they fully develop their instrumental range, not afraid to intro with lengthy and economical setups for Runnings' vocals (see "Vista"'s gorgeous, evocative 80-second intro). There's more room to breathe, which is a good thing. The lyrics can be stifling in their usually less-than-subtle and heavy-hearted nature, and with musicians as accomplished and skilled as these three, the listener is all the better for it. Runnings and Engelhard are a perfect match rhythmically. It's hard not to wonder why Runnings let anyone else play bass. Engelhard's a dynamo throughout, witnessed most on "Seesick"'s stop-starts and on-a-dime rolls. Not quite as nasty and ill-willed as December's moving bitterness, there are still moments of staggering darkness. One such image is provided on "Tagalong," when Runnings states "I hoped you'd find my conscience laying in a pool of blood." Too bad more people couldn't find this record in a bin at a record store; the settled lineup with firebrand skill is found at the peak of its powers on Mason's California Lunch Room, cementing For Against as a band just as deserving of acknowledgement as Lush and Catherine Wheel.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman