Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mason Brothers - The Sun, the Moon & the Sea

This self-released debut record from Richmond, Va. duo James and Christian Mason opens with a beautiful melancholy, driven by carefully fingerpicked guitar notes and verses that draw on battles, ghosts and journeys, all rooted in a lonely sadness. Then comes the soaring chorus, with a breezy harmony to counter the downtrodden imagery:

"If you wait for the sunshine, you might wait for a while
If you hate this feeling, you can hold on to me until it dies
May you rise"

The Sun, the Moon & the Sea is cinematic folk music, rich and deliberately crafted, with guitars and voices woven tightly together. It's something a visionary movie director would do well to notice - think Noah Baumbach in a slightly better mood than he's brought to his last couple films.

The songs are whispery at times, recalling Iron & Wine or perhaps Simon & Garfunkel. The brothers themselves cite Nick Drake among their influences and that's the most accurate parallel. Think also a folkier Elliott Smith, most like the songs on the posthumous New Moon album, or sometimes the less poppy songs of the Pernice Brothers.

The brothers split song-writing credits, with most of the lyrics written by James, who in 2003 released the stark Carnival Sky. The lyrics deal often with mystery and an elemental sort of imagery, run through by ghosts and angels, rain and fire, the night sky and the sunrise, and often things breaking or sinking or crumbling. And the music and vocals fit. Added together there's a power in this collection that reveals itself along the way rather than immediately. The songs are mellow but not slight, and they're weightier than they seem at first.

The arrangements are rooted in acoustic guitars, with spare percussion at most. The songs are most compelling when they're rounded out by organ or mandolin or steel or electric guitar touches.

"In The Canyon" has a bounce that's unique to the album as both the countriest and most strummed song. It still retains the intricacy of the picked guitars and closely tied harmonies, but also brings bit more swagger than most of the other songs. The electric guitar and organ are more pronounced and even without drums it's got a more rhythmic feel. Another stride or two in that direction looks likely for the Mason Brothers, who play live with a six-piece band that will record their follow-up record.

The Sun, the Moon & the Sea is a tremendous debut, stretching 10 songs to 38 minutes, recorded completely analog at Brink Studios in Centreville, Va. and produced by Mike Reina, who also contributes organ and vocals on a few tracks. The Mason Brothers could easily stick to pretty balladry, but there are enough elements in the record to suggest they have a greater versatility that could lead them a number of directions. Just think about the path of Elliott Smith, who found his salvation in the poppier styles that he drew from the Beatles. Or Nick Drake, whose songs had an airy, atmospheric quality, sounding more like night-time than the afternoon or dusk of the Mason Brothers. Or the SoCal songwriters who breezed into country styles. Most intriguing might be the Iron & Wine or M. Ward routes of hooking up with eclectic collaborators who can flesh out their spacious and captivating songs.

Mason Brothers - In The Canyon
Mason Brothers - Round And Round

Hear and buy the record at MySpace or the band's Web site: www.MasonBrothersMusic.com.

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