Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Mason Jennings: Boneclouds

Over the past five years Mason Jennings has slowly built a large following due to his honest, down to earth lyrics and constant touring. His ability to mix politics, spirituality and earnest feeling while painting vivid imagery in the mind of the listener has proven that Mason is one of the strongest songwriters of the 21st century. Boneclouds marks Mason’s first release on a major label, Isaac Brock’s (Modest Mouse) Glacial Pace Records, a division of Sony’s Epic Records. While the record stays true to Mason’s roots through most of the journey, parts are certainly influenced by his newfound label - with mixed results.

The album opens up on a familiar note with “Be Here Now”, also the first single from the album. “Be Here Now” stays in the same vein as “Sorry Signs on Cash Machines” from 2002’s Century Spring, relying mainly on the piano and a catchy hook. The song is certainly more realized than those on previous releases, but this heavier production yields positive results. The second track, “Gentlest Hammer” follows a similar pattern, using laid back guitars and another strong hook to keep the album moving in a positive direction.

The next two tracks epitomize everything that Mason does so well. The third track, “If You Ain’t Got Love” is the first on the album that really utilizes Mason’s storytelling to his full potential. “...Love” features the strongest lyrical content off the album and is certainly one of the highlights of the album. “Some Say I’m Not” draws from Mason’s spiritual side, while also channeling Zeppelin to create the strongest track on the album - and one of his best to date.

After the first four tracks the album tends to drop off in to mediocrity. “Moon Sailing Over Water” is good, but forgettable. “If You Need a Reason” and “Which Way Your Heart Will Go” also feature good song-writing, but Mason is certainly capable of more. “Jackson Square” is the only real stand-out track off the last half of the album, combining vivid lyrics and a the catchy vocal lines we’ve come to expect.

The last two tracks are best described as mistakes. “Where The Sun Has Gone” is the worst song I’ve ever heard from Mason. With a few misses on past releases (Godless, Duluth), it’s not shocking to find one here - though I didn’t think I’d find one that would miss THIS much. The track feels like a throwaway from some Modest Mouse sessions, featuring no guitars, replaced instead by synths and delayed vocals. If you’re familiar with Mason, you know his vocals just aren’t suited for this genre. “Jesus, Are You Real?” wraps the album up in a rather anti-climactic way. Although the lyrical content is good, again mixing in spiritual elements, the recording does the song no justice.

Mason’s major label debut shows flashes of brilliance during the first four songs and solid song-writing right up until the end. If Boneclouds shows us anything, it shows that Isaac Brock shouldn’t be allowed in the studio with Mason - otherwise you get “Where The Sun Has Gone”.

Overall rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

[mp3] Some Say I'm Not
[mp3] Jackson Square

Visit Mason's website.
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Blogger Bandit Drummer said...

Jackson Square is my new favourite Mason Jennings song. 'Song of the Year' I say! I agree with your review and also with your 3.5 rating. I think you should here the song "Things Change" by MJ. I received it as a free track after downloading Boneclouds on Itunes. It's piano driven and is classic Mason (Birds Flying Away) mixed with a Morning Glory Oasis vibe. It's way better than a lot of the cuts that made the album...

2:21 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

I love this album and just found your blog when I did a search for it. Nice review, I'd say you have a real future as a music critic. I agree with you that "Where the Sun Has Gone" is a mistake, but not "Jesus Are you Real?" That song has a lot of depth to it.

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice review. Agreed on "Where the Sun Has Gone," but "Duluth" is a lovely song. It immediately dug up thoughts of "Angel From Montgomery" for me.

3:54 PM  

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