Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First Listen: Steve Mason, Boys Outside

My introduction to The Beta Band came from John Cusack. You remember that moment in High Fidelity when Cusack’s character, a record store owner, proclaims that he will “now sell three copies of The Three EPs by the Beta Band,” and then proceeds to play this gorgeous, atmospheric music? Turns out that was the superb “Dry the Rain,” and I loved it and had to buy it.

I admit I haven’t kept as close track of the Beta Band, or founding member Steve Mason’s other projects, as I should have. If you’re in the same boat, now’s a good time to pay attention again, because Mason’s first solo album, Boys Outside, is finally available in the U.S. (more than a month after its U.K. release). The album sports the same folksy electronica Mason crafted with the Beta Band, but this time it sounds more intimate, more personal.

Boys Outside has an appealing home studio feel to it, with acoustic guitars and electric pianos sitting atop trippy programmed beats. Mason has an everyman voice, but he can make it sound spectral and haunting. “The Letter” has a sweeping menace to it, and single “All Come Down” will stick with you. My favorite, though, is “Lost and Found.” Its simple melody and piano figure work well with its Enigma-style beat, and its nearly six-minute running time gives it the space to stretch out.

Mason has created a shorter, more subtle album here, but it’s no less a treat. Try it here and buy it here.

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