Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Review - Mason Jennings: Boneclouds



My history with Mason Jennings is a tumultuous one. He’s an artist I’ve been following and supporting for a long ass time, but he never seemed to take it to the next level like I expected. He’s had all his proverbial ducks in a row for a long time. He’s a gifted songwriter. He toured with, and had his songs covered by Jack Johnson. He got hyped up by Isaak from Modest Mouse and has shared the stage with too many fantastic artists to even try to list. Everything you’d think would take an artist to the next level.

That being said, up until this release he’s maintained a small but loyal fan base. For example, when I saw him last tour in Toronto, he played to about 15 of us. I showed up halfway through the opening act, and was still able to get a seat at a table with one of those IKEA tea light holders making the 360 Club seem a lot more classy than it really is. Then Mason steps out, and powers through a set that engrossed the crowd and you can’t help but wonder why no one shows.

For a few months back in the ’02, I tried to get people hyped on his music. I’d chuck it on in the car, or at my apartment hoping to get that High Fidelity thing going – “Who’s this? Mason Jennings. It’s good. I know.” Unfortunately, I usually got something along the line of “what the hell is this?” or “are we going to whittle some wood?”

Mason is an artist that has never really conformed. He can write a disc filled with emotional songs that could easily find a place on the radio, but they are often combined, even overshadowed with religious, introspective numbers that will not hit home with the common listener. He maintained creative freedom by releasing indie releases on a small label, but his newest disc, Boneclouds, sees Mason making the plunge to a major label. His album is the first release on Isaak’s own Glacial Pace imprint for Epic music.

Overall, this is a pretty standard Mason Jennings release. It has some amazing tracks (the amazingly powerful Jesus are you real, Which way will your heart go and the lovely ballad If you ain’t got love) and a few that new fans will simply dismiss (the bluesy Some say I’m not and the confusing, almost annoying choir/Cameo effect backup vocal - not the codpiece, the vocal distortion/back beat combo to Where the sun had been). Mason’s lyrics, as usual, focus on the search for love and spirituality. He mixes hope and the human desire to question everything that exists in subtle ballads. Either you love it, or you don't. It's hard to sit on the Mason-dixon line, so to speak.

The thing is I don’t think this album is enough of a change to make Mason a household name, but I think that is the same for a lot of the bands getting snatched up by big labels – Decemberists are a prime example. Indie bands for the most part, have an established fan base, and without a Float On type of single, it's not going to change. I'm glad Mason didn't change. Jackson Square could have found a home on any of his albums to date. That’s not a criticism, it’s a fantastic record, and I expect it will be in my rotation for a long time, I just can’t see it changing who Mason plays for. And after listening to his lyrics and interviews I’d guess that is something that probably suits him just fine.

MP3:: Ulysses – from the Use your Voice LP
MP3:: Which way your will heart go

Posted at 1:24 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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