Steve Mason

Boys Outside

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From the first few seconds of Steve Mason's first full-length under his own name (following one as King Biscuit Time and one as Black Affair), the results could be a Beta Band reunion in full force, with all the crushing beats and junk-shop audio detritus to boot. But it soon becomes clear that Mason's production partner, Richard X, is having a subtle influence, one that pushes Boys Outside into adult alternative territory. While that may be worrisome for Mason's long-time fans, it bodes well for those who have long wondered whether his voice would always remain one of the best-kept secrets in the alternative/indie world. Compared to Beta Band material, the songs here are given a sharper touch but also a softer focus, and Mason's vocals (always a highlight of the records he appeared on) are given the foreground. His vocals still evoke some sort of Scottish high lonesome sound, although his range hasn't expanded much in a dozen years of music-making. (Considering his dearth of material over the past eight years, most listeners will be thankful for this.) His lyrical themes remain bewildered and self-indicting. It's easy to get the feeling that the cover, which is completely black, is an act of fatalistic self-resignation; when he sings "The river runs baby, and it calls for me," the unavoidable impression is that he'll soon be floating along in it, face down. Mason and Richard X do an excellent job of sanding off the rough edges of Mason's past Beta Band material, leaving listeners with more melodic and harmonic treats to enrich their discovery of his many lyrical delicacies. Mason's career has been one of constant starts and stops and side-project misdirections (for his fans, at least), so the straightforwardly eccentric Boys Outside is clearly a record to treasure.

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