By: Geoff Topley
Steve Mason | website | facebook | twitter |
Released on February 26, 2016 via Double Six Records
The Beta Band were a breath of fresh air when they first appeared on the scene many moons ago. Their apparent ramshackle approach to song writing gave us three amazing e.p’s instead of a debut album, but subsequent releases only showed occasional glimpses of the initial greatness. A brilliant live spectacle, the weight of expectation inevitably meant a parting of ways, but head honcho Steve Mason has continued to release music under various guises. With album number three, Meet the Humans, Steve has created one of his finest collections to date.
Sounding re-invigorated and for the most part, upbeat, there are some stellar tunes that recall those initial forays from his previous band. Throughout, there are marvellous percussive grooves and an ever present rolling piano that meshes with the mostly acoustic guitar to provide toe-tapping goodness. Opener ‘Water Bored’ is truly joyous and Mason’s multi-tracked vocals, all “ooohs” and “aahs” are a very lovely thing. Mason recreates the spirit of old Ki-Ora adverts with the carnival atmospherics of ‘Alive’, a seriously groovy track with bongos and handclaps and a personal favourite instrument, the melodica. What next? How about some delicious fuzzy guitars? ‘Alright’. This track has plenty of them and explodes into life with layered guitars and added brass. Cheap sounding keyboard stabs let the song down a little, but they probably seemed a good idea at the time.
The opening trilogy of tunes will give you a warm glow inside, each one bursting with life and vitality. However, the pacing of the album takes a downbeat turn with ‘Another Day’ and in particular ‘Run Away’ and ‘To a Door’ which both have remarkable restraint in terms of not allowing the urge to go epic take over. My problem with these three songs is that whilst they are very pleasant, they sound a little unremarkable, especially when compared to the belts and braces approach of the openers.
But there are some absolutely brilliant highlights to be found on the latter half of the album. Standout track ‘Hardly Go Through’ has some lovely eruptions of guitars leading into and exiting the chorus. The tenderness with which Mason sings really adds to the uplifting beauty and the track’s finale were the guitars build and build into a huge wave of sound is euphoric.
Mason always knows which instruments to introduce at just the right time and whilst ‘Planet Sizes’ has an indecisive verse, there’s a glorious chorus that echoes Beck’s ‘The Golden Age’. It’s impossible not to smile when the percussive lilts (steel drums?) shimmy in the chorus.
It’s lucky I managed to acquire the final two bonus tracks as they are pearls. The heavily layered strings of ‘Like Water’ mix lovingly with rolling pianos and one of those Oasis-y shuffling beats. Finally Mason goes for the switch marked EPIC. If the aforementioned Manchester band had written this tune it would be hailed as one of their classics. The pounding diesel powered hip-hop beat of ‘Words in My Head’ cracks in and never lets up. Merciless maracas add extra funk and the template of piano chords, acoustic guitars and chanting/droning vocals finds itself given and extra embellishment with John Carpenter-esque staccato keyboards. A very fine ending indeed.
It’ll sound ridiculous to state the obvious and say that fans of The Beta Band will love this album, but it’s very true. Of course it’s their main man, but Steve really does dig deep into the sound that grabbed everyone’s attention way back when. Whilst Mason isn’t springing too many surprises, it’s an excellent album and there’s no-one else who sounds so distinctive. Roll on the summer because this album needs to be heard in warmer climes. For now, it’ll warm your heart and do your soul the power of good.