In fifteen years of making music, Steve Mason has never shied away from speaking his mind. Whether dismissing the first Beta Band album prior to its release, encouraging a crowd of 30,000 Texans to club together to take out the then-recently elected President George Bush Jr. or talking openly about his battles with depression, Mason’s default setting is something close to “kick against the pricks”. It’s no surprise then that when confronted with outside voices urging caution while piecing together his superlative new album Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time he refused to listen.
“My last record, Boys Outside, took a lot of confidence to make because it was so raw and emotional. The thing that took all the confidence in making this record was sticking firmly to the politics that were involved. Fans don’t usually like it, record labels usually don’t like it and the press usually don’t like it. So… f**k the lot of them because it’s really very important to me!”
Written against the backdrop of the early years of coalition government and worldwide social flux, Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time is a record of its times. Politics, Occupy era-paranoia and the pursuit of social justice both on a personal and global level are right at the record’s core. You can hear them seeping through the sampled voices that lattice throughout the tracks and it’s there in the righteous boxer’s swagger of opening salvo “Fight Them Back”. You can hear it in the swarming chaos of “More Money, More Fire” and even in the album title’s citation of a Buddhist term for an easily distracted brain that reads as allusion to today’s tech-addicted, ADD population.
“The monkey mind is a mind that can’t settle; one that constantly bounces from one thing to the next. There are so many distractions in the modern world, it’s very easy to forget what’s going on around you. That doesn’t mean that situation won’t go away.” There’s a certain monkey mindedness to the record itself. Across twenty tracks and myriad musical styles, the album follows a very different path to the one set out on Mason’s first solo album, 2010’s Boys Outside. Split between nine songs recorded in London with producer Dan Carey (Hot Chip, Bat for Lashes, Toy) and eleven short pieces self-produced in Mason’s Fife studio, the record is both as restless as it is lean.
Whether on tantalizing snatches of music or on fully explored songs, Monkey Minds… manages to both suggest and enhance the highlights of Steve Mason’s decade and half long recording career. You hear nods to the uniquely melancholic uplift of the Beta Band (“Lonely”, “Come To Me”) and the cavernous echo chamber dub of the Dennis Bovell produced remix project Ghosts Outside (“Operation Mason”). Elsewhere, the record explores the fleet-footed electronics and snapped-tight basslines of Mason’s first solo venture King Biscuit Time (“Towers of Power”, “Fire!”) before venturing into the wistful electronic blue-eyed soul of Boys Outside (“A Lot of Love”, “Never Be Alone”). A lot of what makes Monkey Minds… such a compelling listen is down to Mason’s musical impulsiveness.
The heart of Monkey Minds… (also the album’s first release) is “Fight Them Back”. A protest song for a post-London riots era, “Fight Them Back” hangs on a madly catchy, fantastically confrontational chorus (“You get up and fight them back /A fist, a boot and a baseball bat”) and grimly confessional verses that imagine a former British PM confessing his true feelings of hatred to the nation.
“Fight Them Back” and all the rest of Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time couldn’t have come at any other point in Steve Mason’s career. Both the single and the album have been shaped by the lack of dissenting voices in music and popular culture in the most chaotic and confused era since the wartime. The righteous, undaunted anger and the quest for solutions that sit at the heart of the album has helped to create Mason’s best record to date.
“I wanted this record to take stock of where I am in my life and where the world is. If it seems quite dark then that’s because that’s the situation I believe we’re in. There’s a thought that terrifies me and it’s that my generation will be the last one to have any great interest in politics. And it’s not like my generation has been particularly revolutionary. The spirit has been drummed out of people systematically. Think back to the ’80s. Everyone was political – whether they were extreme left or right wing, there was engagement everywhere. Nowadays, any interest in politics has been drummed out of people; they end up seeing politics as something that happens to everyone else apart from them. The opposite is true – people could change things tomorrow – but they’ve been led to believe they have no power. People have ALL the power – they just have to remember it.”
The fight back starts here.
Not with boots, fists or baseball bats but with words and music.
Support from CHAINS
Chains are a 3 piece band built around the amazing voice of Robyn Glass and the multi instrumental talents of Harley and Tyler. They describe their sound as “small town mellow acoustic” but have begun to experiment with a bigger more experimental sound recently.
Alphabet Bands blog described their sound as “a beautiful sadness, like watching the last unicorn die of heartbreak”
They are a 3 piece Robyn – vocals, Harley – guitar/vocals and Tyler – bass/vocals/bass drum.