July 04, 2003

James Mason "Carnival Sky"

Carnival Sky is a record that must be listened to properly, or you're going to miss a lot. See, when I received this record, I listened to it on my car stereo a few times. "Nice," I thought. "It's pretty good Elliott Smith-like country folk." It was certainly a nice enough record; it didn't strike me as anything particularly bad, even if it wasn't all that original. When I came around to listen to it for review, I put it on my stereo and gave it a listen. And then another. And then...nothing. It just seemed like a quiet guy making quiet music, kind of like Elliott Smith or Nick Drake, but, again, nothing special. I couldn't really find any satisfying things to say about it, because, really, what more can you say about a guy with a guitar and a penchant for folk and country?

When I put Carnival Sky on my diskman, though, something about it changed again. It was...different. Different not in the sense that I suddenly "got" it, or that the album clicked...it literally sounded like a much different record. While the points I made above certainly still rings true, the album is certainly requires precise listening procedure, else it will slip by you. "Subtle" is too strong a word; "ethereal" is perhaps more apt for Mason. Songs that were slight and small--such as the beautiful "Black Lines"--are deeper, much more expansive, and, if you're into this sort of thing, mind-blowing. Instead of the typical Smith/Oldham/Drake comparisons, I'm certainly convinced that his influences also include Galaxie 500, Felt and the Cocteau Twins. A folkie Cocteau Twins? He's certainly making a case for it. And it seems I spoke too soon, too; Mason may indeed be the first band that owes an obvious debt to the Clientele as well--listen to "Laura's Stones" and tell me I'm wrong about that one.

While Carnival Sky is certainly brief, it's mixed together in such a way that it feels like one long song cycle--or is that from the fact that the ten songs are grouped into three not-really obvious categories? Who knows.Carnival Sky is a beautiful, atmospheric record with lots of very small, very slight nuances that you might and probably will miss the first few times around. I know I did. When you get really, really close to the music, though, you'll find that this is no mere imitation. Mason's got something here, and it will be interesting hearing how it develops over the next few albums. Chalk another artist on the 'one to watch' pile, ma.

--Joseph Kyle

No comments: