Mason Proper – Olly Oxen Free
Record Label: Dovecote Records
Release Date: September 23, 2008
Here’s “the” record; the one that allows me to swoon and feel plugged in to hipness’ oozing core. Olly Oxen Free, Mason Proper’s second 2008 release after their similarly excellent digital EP Shorthand, could hardly fit more brilliance and understated creativity into its ten songs. Bandleader and wispy-voiced lyricist Jonathan Visger weaves us into entrancingly experimental post-pop music that sorta recalls indie greats The Dismemberment Plan, Menomena and Islands. Additional touches of horns on “Downpour” or a child’s voice on “Point A to Point B” create a full-bodied experience, one that will envelop the listener and carry them into a new, off kilter universe.
There’s nary a misplaced moment during Olly Oxen Free. The planning these songs must have undergone is humbling; “Shiny” pushes the band’s far-out boundaries with Visger taking Cold War Kids’ Nathan Willett’s delivery and twisting it into creepy yelps, which are then accompanied by raw, cutting guitar riffs and siren-like electronics. Each element serves to create a mood: “Fog” opens the album with supporting drum fills, hazy guitar tones and the lines, “My horoscope said pack your bags.” The song continues to build into a chorus anchored by Zac Fineberg’s subterranean bass and simple drumstick taps from Garrett Jones. But of course the real talent is Visger: He requires the musical equivalent of close reading. Sleep and you’ll miss lines like, “In past lives I was wealthy / So probably unhealthy / Oh, I’m so glad I died,” from the languid yet pulsing “Point A to Point B.”
Olly Oxen Free is dark mid-tempo fare we seem to crave right as the leaves change. “Lock and Key” uses its angular riffs to create the perfect chill/dance vibe, while “Only A Moment” goes from sounding like every faux lo-fi indie song out there before turning into a post-punk carnival. Guitarist Brian Konicek and keyboardist Matt Thompson are supporting roles, sure, but their stinging parts (especially Konicek’s noodling guitar tones) set the stage perfectly for Visger. Take away the menacingly simple keys in “Out Dragging the River” and lines like, “I think I’m through with the fighting / Chopped off my heavy, heavy hands,” would sound almost silly. With music aimed at the intelligent few, each individual note must work as a partnership, as an efficient process. If one puzzle piece is missing (like the harmonic layers behind Visger’s voice or the creepy outro laughs), this song may have failed. Lucky for us we’ll never know.
Throughout the album’s downward slope we hear through-the-telephone vocals and a folk influence on “In The Mirror.” We hear “la la la’s” and Dismemberment Plan-in-static stylings during “Alone.” But the album’s true genius shows itself in closer “Safe for the Time Being.” Its mixture of Visger’s painful drawl and the forceful repetition of the song’s title literally f**k with you. The song takes its time in the buildup, making us yearn. It all explodes in claustrophobic noise, while Visger floats around in the upper register. He is commanding the troops right to the end. He’s imploring us to listen, learn and pick his brain. We’re all witnesses to a new powerhouse called Mason Proper.
Recommended If You Like: Dismemberment Plan, Islands, a blank canvas, Teenage Fanclub, Bon Iver (in a genius type way), listening to me