Sunday, December 14, 2008

Review: Mason Proper - Olly Oxen Free (* * * *)

Mason Proper is another band that escaped my attention earlier this year. Their sophomore effort, Olly Oxen Free, was released in September and, once again, I'm glad I finally found out about it. The album is a brief, but exciting, blast of experimental indie pop that is at once funky, noisy, and bizarre, but always melodic.

The music on Olly Oxen Free is built on a solid bass and drum (the instruments, not the genre) foundation while traditional piano, keys, and guitars riffs are generally avoided. Instead, you hear explosions of spiky guitar lines and blasts of synth that often compete for attention with singer Jonathan Visger's oddball lyrics and high tenor vocals. It's a combination that makes for a fun and unique take on the classic indie rock sound. At the album's best moments, the three-song combo of "Lock And Key," "Only A Moment," and "Out Dragging The River," the music is riveting, the kind of stuff you have to play a few times through before you've had your fill. It's the sound of a confident young band with a fresh perspective and plenty of talent to back it up.

Though the record's ten tracks provide more than enough melodic and lyrical hooks, the first five contain most of the best moments. The spastic "Shiny" and the more deliberate closer "Safe For The Time Being" are both strong tunes found on the back side, but the slow, spacey "In The Mirror" is the album's one true weak spot, a poor start to the second half that depletes the momentum. Despite the diversion, though, Olly Oxen Free is a great collection of songs that certainly warrants your attention. It's varied and occasionally quite strange, but focused enough to be worth hearing in its entirety.

Mason Proper have focused their sound while exploring fascinating new territory, putting themselves in a decidedly upward trajectory. Visger, as both a singer and a songwriter, remains the group's most compelling weapon, and as he continues to push boundaries his band sound more than capable of keeping up.

For an MP3 and video download, check out this post.