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|Start Making Sense: Mason Proper, January 30 at Mixtapes|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Wednesday, 23 January 2008 02:30|
Mason Proper's debut album, There Is a Moth in Your Chest, is utterly scattershot. It's a 12-course meal for which there appears to have been little thought put into the progression or the entirety.
It is in that way a mess. What's striking is that almost all the tracks, separately, feel close to perfect.
Singer/songwriter Jonathan Visgr doesn't disagree with that analysis. "It was a conscious choice," he said last week. "We would just focus on each individual song without worrying too much about the greater whole. We would just worry about making each individual song make sense within itself. ... We wrote the thing under the catchphrase for ourselves of ‘schizophrenic pop.' So it kind of made sense to us based on not making sense. ...
"It's not easy to pigeonhole," he conceded, "and therefore probably not easy to market."
When the Michigan quintet comes to the Quad Cities next week for a show at Mixtapes and a session for Daytrotter.com, it will probably make a little more sense. Mason Proper is now on the cusp of its next phase, and while its first record remains a testament to the breadth and depth of its considerable skills, it is an artifact.
Moth was self-released two years ago, and a re-worked version was put out by Dovecote early last year.
The label will release a new EP/DVD package, Short Hand, on March 4, featuring studio versions and videos of four songs that the band worked into its live set over the past year. The style is "noisy indie pop," Visgr said, "certainly not a huge deviation from what we've done before. ... It's sort of clearing the slate to getting the live favorites recorded and put out before we move on."
In March, he said, the band will head into the studio to record its second album. "It's going to fit more coherently together," he said. "It's just a new challenge for us. ... It's a little bit more spacious. We're really focusing a little bit more on the darker side of what we did with Moth - more sparse."
Moth is an invigorating record, and also a frustrating one. It never feels desperate - Mason Proper doesn't sound like it's fishing for a hit - but its mood is continually broken by stylistic shifts. Dreamy pop leads to angular, punkish rock, which gives way to a noisy fragment of a dance tune, which segues into an atmospheric intro to a muscular, stuttering anthem: "Chemical Dress Eliza," a song that, given some exposure, could have easily made Mason Proper stars. "Mr. Charm" sounds like a Pixies leftover, while "I Spy," with its programmed percussion and undersea-animal melody, might feel at home on a recent Radiohead record. "Life's Cornucopia" has an organic delicacy and longing.
"I wouldn't say that it was necessarily that we were hunting for a specific sound," Visgr said. "We did approach it much more from the anything-goes, if-it-sounds-good-it-is-good perspective. ... It'll be interesting to see if doing a more focused thing feels limiting to us at after doing that."
Since the Moth tracks were originally written, Visgr said, the band has learned "what really translated well into a live setting. That really was the driving factor for it [the new album]. ... It was very much a wall-of-sound thing ... with Moth. Sometimes that extreme wall of sound is the reason that some people don't think that they like to go to live shows, because it's a very harsh environment when that's going on. When there's a little bit more space in the music, and you can enjoy the tones of the instruments, I think it becomes a more enjoyable experience overall."
The new material, he said, is "more about the subtleties then, and much less about ‘We're way over here, and now we're way over here.'"
Mason Proper will perform at Mixtapes (830 15th Avenue in East Moline) on Wednesday, January 30, with Via Audio and Space. The show starts at 6 p.m., and admission is a $5 donation.
For more information on the band, visit (http://www.masonproper.com).
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