Heller Mason

Minimalist & Anchored

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First self-released, then re-released the following year with extra tracks on Silber, Heller Mason's debut, Minimalist & Anchored, is not a surprising record, but it is a listenable enough one if you're already inclined to its general approach. It's not quite as minimalist as all that, to be sure -- at the very least there aren't any Steve Reich covers. But more to the point instead of this sounding like, say, Nick Drake's Pink Moon, Heller Mason -- the alternate name for lead/core figure Todd Vandenburg -- employs the help of a full backing band in creating moody, melancholy songs that unavoidably recall the ruined grandeur of such performers as Gram Parsons or quieter, '70s-era Neil Young. Songs keep to generally steady paces or, when brisk, aim for understated pep rather than brawling energy; steel and electric guitar parts with plenty of twang are core. The counterpoint is Mason's breathy voice -- a wistful and indeed very Drake-tinged sigh more suited to, say, opening for Coldplay instead of fronting Crazy Horse -- and song titles like "After All Is Said & Done, More Was Said Than Done" and "Sick to Death of Sobriety," which sound like they should be short pieces in McSweeney's. Other songs like "Barrelling Towards Nowhere Like There's No Tomorrow" have the same big-but-close/tender feeling of any number of recent groups from the Flaming Lips and Wilco to Mogwai, if nothing else reflective of a popular style's continuing appeal. Still, for all this there's very little on Minimalist & Anchored that's truly remarkable, that stands out as a unique or striking take on some roots -- it is what it is but Vandenburg and his crew have yet to achieve their implied goals.

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