Steve Mason began his career in music by becoming the lead singer with Scottish band, The Beta Band back in 1996. He stayed with the band from 1996 to 2004. The band played a mixture of all sorts of music including Folk, Electronica, Trip Hop, Rock, and a bit more besides. Their albums were always events and the fans had no idea what was coming at them next.
The Beta Band assessment
Since the split, Steve has released music under several guises but in 2013, it all came together in an absolutely brilliant solo album- Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time. It's an outstanding record and one that deserves repeated listens. It's not an easy listen but one hell of a rewarding one.
fight them back
So, it's been three long years to see what Steve has come u with next. And with Meet The Humans, he certainly hasn't disappointed. In fact, he may even have topped Monkey Minds.
Following the darkness and challenging, confrontational 'aggression' of Monkey Minds, Meet The Humans is an album of Joy, Hope and some brilliantly vibrant and optimistic song writing. Again, it wasn't the sort of album I was expecting but true to form, Steve has produced an album that nobody expected him to produce following Monkey Minds.
I think the first great decision on Meet The Humans was to bring in Elbow's Craig Potter to sit in the Producer's chair. He certainly knows how to build a superb record.
The album opens with the glimmering shuffle of Water Board. Steve has not lost his strength of rhythm and this is shown throughout the album but the songs find new positions and breathing space compared to the claustrophobic feel of Monkeys Mind. It's as if someone has opened the windows to let in the light.
It's a joyous, piano led song with lovely simple harmonic vocals. Engineered to please and to blow the cobwebs away from that three year hiatus.
The upbeat feel continues with Alive - another uplifting song. There's even space for a synthesised sitar and other electronic flourishes that skip above the piano.
Two songs in and you're already smiling.
Alright kicks off with some fuzzed guitar chords before some 80s sounding keyboards move the song forward. The song then breaks into an electric guitar with sweeping strings and brass building to a crescendo of harmony and Steve's voice floating over the top. Turning it into a dramatic, epic wall of noise.
Next up is one of my favourite songs on the album - Another Day, the beginning of the song builds beautifully to an extremely catchy chorus. But this isn't the end of the story, we then get some brilliant brass phrases that lift the song to another level and reaches a triumphant conclusion.
The addition of strings and brass to Steve's sound is the winning card in Meet The Human's hand. It gives the album a more organic and dare I say it, Human, quality.
Although it is an overall optimistic record, Meet The Humans does have it's darker and more melancholy moments, such as in the next track, Run Away. It's a softly brooding ballad, led by piano and bathed in strings. It's a really beautiful song.
To A Door is another gentle song that flows along beautifully to a rhythm of handclaps, acoustic guitar and piano. It's understated, harmonious and really quite quietly joyous.
It will be really interesting to see how Steve interweaves these softer songs into some of the more challenging songs from earlier works when he performs these songs on the Meet The Humans Tour in late 2016.
At 5.18, the longest song on the album is the next to hit your ears. Hardly Go Through is another quietly epic song - to me, very much in the vein of a Pink Floyd song, except maybe for the more insistent piano stabs in the choruses.
Through My Window is a watercolour treatment of a song. Wistful, with breathy almost whispered vocals by Steve. It's a simple, acoustic song and is also simply gorgeous.
The first track that was released from the album was the perfect choice. Planet Sizes is a wonderfully uplifting and optimistic song, based around an insistent piano phrase and acoustic guitars, it becomes bathed one again in electronica and some twinkling piano - it really is a gospel song, stripped right back and presented in a beautifully simplistic and modern way.
And talking of gospel, the next track, Like Water also has a gospel feel, especially with the insistent piano work - it is very Hymnic, especially when the strings and brass join the cymbals in crashing towards the triumphant climax. Another epic track.
As if to prove the uplifting nature of the record, the final track, Words In My Head, drives along again on a persistent piano phrase which unpins the song. The electronic instrumentation once again builds up the song to a glorious climax.
Meet The Humans is the most Singer/Songwriter album of Steve Mason's career so far. For beneath the instrumentation, that's exactly what it is. Whether based around piano or acoustic guitar, you can easily see Steve play this album in it's basest form if he wanted to. And it would still sound fabulous.
Quality songwriting with a gloriously sympathetic production have helped Steve Mason produce the album of his career so far. If you haven't yet caught up with Mr Mason, it's time you did. And make sure you don't miss his previous album. To see another side of this excellent songwriter.