Steve Mason Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time Review

Released 2013.  

BBC Review

A sprawling, beautiful, brain-belch of an album from a never-dull artist.

Rich Hanscomb 2013

“People forget that John Lennon was a political animal,” said Alan McGee, selling the politicised zeal behind Steve Mason’s false-dawn comeback as King Biscuit Time in 2006.

That album, Black Gold – released on McGee’s Poptones imprint – featured the George Bush-baiting dancehall skank of C I AM 15; but mostly a lot of fine future-folk, the kind that typified Mason’s previous outfit, The Beta Band.

His fans could be forgiven for forgetting he possessed a righteous political polemic with subsequent releases, especially his attempt to corner the Hot-Chip-fan-partial-to-a-bit-of-bondage demographic with the Black Affair project.

Angry and socially conscious he remains, though. Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time, a sprawling, beautiful, brain-belch of an album, is an hour-long testament to this.

It works brilliantly as lo-fi movements in music segue into fuller, fleshed-out songs exemplified by The Old Problem, a haunting spoken word piece that shuffles into Lie Awake.  

“At 15 years old I had to know / What makes you fail and what makes you grow,” coos Mason over descending bass and guitars that sit on a bed of digital mulch. It’s a profound, affecting opener, light years from The Beta Band Rap.

Dubby vignettes like The Last of the Heroes and funky kosmische workouts like Safe Population abound, but Mason is at his most satisfying when he employs his world-weary voice.

Lonely soars with melancholic-gospel-ennui, Oh My Lord is Sweet Home Alabama on a Bontempi keyboard, and Fight Them Back – arguably Mason’s finest piece of song-smithery since Dry the Rain – is air punching, proletariat mobilizing, insurrection-pop of the highest calibre.

Elsewhere, MC Mystro guests on More Money, More Fire, a vitriolic commentary on the Tottenham riots. Preceding this is the album’s most disconcerting moment: Behind the Curtain’s electronic miasma reveals itself to be an inversion of Rule Britannia, recalling Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.

Heart wins out, ultimately. Come to Me is tender and true, while From Hate We Hope illustrates Mason’s belief in humanity: “I remember being 10 years old / Looking at myself in the mirror thinking how amazing it is to be human… You do forget, you know.”

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