Tracy Bonham’s career trajectory seems to run in reverse; with each record, she gets riskier, coming a long, long way from the bottled-up furious angst of her ‘90s alt-rock staple “Mother Mother.” Masts of Manhatta, her fourth album and first since 2005’s Blink the Brightest, ups the ante from that haunting record by accentuating its elliptical turns, its songs dodging conventional routes in favor of left turns. Bonham is assisted greatly by Beck guitarist Smokey Hormel and his trio, who lend her songs earthiness and art, giving this heft and welcome unpredictability. To an extent, Bonham lays out her album’s thesis on “We Moved Our City to the Country,” a knowing satire of hipsters fleeing the urban jungle for faux authenticity, where she feels the pull of the two extremes as evidenced by how her sawing violin contrasts with the cabaret shuffle of Hormel’s group. Masts of Manhatta walks this line throughout, sometimes getting quite a bit livelier, sometimes indulging in decidedly moody textures, always twisting just slightly from the expected, making for a record that’s quite intriguing upon the first listen and better on repeats, where the songs begin to dig in and all the textures gain resonance.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine