Singer/songwriter Alex Mason writes like he has something to prove; with all the lyrical maturity and musical talent of an award-winner, Wistow Lows is a bright beginning to a fledgling career.
A few weeks ago we reviewed The Hurry and the Harm by City and Colour, an album with the glimmering promise of a folk/rock hybrid—skilled guitar melodies, booming drums and heartbreaking lyrical simplicity to rock your socks off. However, the album was disappointing at best. Wistow Lows, a four track EP by Listowel native Alex Mason, fits comfortably where The Hurry and the Harm missed the mark. Mason’s work is a confident combination of folk, rock, and blues, with more grit and less mainstream pomp than something like The Hurry and the Harm. Sure, Mason is young and has a long way to go before he garners the same attention as Dallas and the gang, but this EP is an outstanding effort from an upstart musician who’s keen on denying his immaturity in the industry. More importantly—he does so convincingly.
Mason exhibits tremendous lyrical dexterity and complexity, with intricate wordplay and punning highlighted throughout his songs. “Black Lung”, a gritty, hard-hitting battle with inner alcoholic demons, explores the relationship through clever linguistic connections. While nearly every rock artist and poet has confronted this subject matter, Mason shows immense care when handling the issue; he is aware of the inherent clichés and navigates them with surprising skill. He dissects his personality—comprised of a demon, a child, and a woman—and attacks his “aleing” (see what I did there) maladies. Malevolent spirits are drowned in various alcoholic “spirits”; babies are baptized in the fiery water; and wine grapes grow on “veins and vines”. The wordplay does reinvigorate an exhausted theme, but the constant punning can become a little tired—for instance, rhyming “wine” with “whine” when the implied double-entendre was likely already rendered for most listeners.
In a similar fashion, “Howl” reworks the werewolf myth, as well as the tales of “Little Red Riding Hood” and the “Three Little Pigs”, wrestling with all of the subtexts evoked by each tale, and layering them with considerable skill into a song about sexual relationships, abuse and betrayal: “You were sleeping in a straw house / chasing curling tale before she / pulled me down / But which is the wolf and which is the man to you?”
While I would hold that “Swell Song” is the best of the four, “Howl” is my personal favourite. The bassy notes render a sinister atmosphere and a few particular chords resonate so strongly they grip at the stomach—like a wolf chasing a damsel in a forest; like a werewolf battling his inevitable transformation, Mason’s notes sonically engulf and entrance. If “Swell Song” hasn’t already grabbed your attention, “Howl” will bind and terrorize—and above all else—have you wishing the EP were a full-length release. With Mason’s hearty growl, “Howl” truly bears the teeth alluded to by his tenacious, wry lyrics.
The EP as a whole is great. Mason writes and sings with the confidence of an established professional. Of course, he is a young and maturing artist, and some hiccups are to be expected, but the EP is amazingly polished (perhaps owing to The Sugar Shack where it was recorded), lyrically engaging and smart, and emotionally charged. Wistow Lows reaches wistful highs—if Alex Mason can fulfill the promise herein set then we’ll certainly hear more from him in the future.
4 Banjo Strings out of 5
If you want to hear more from Alex, his EP launch party is July 6th at the London Music Club. Tickets are $10 at the door and Wistow Lows will be available for $5.
*Update* – you can listen to the entire EP here, and buy yourself a digital copy.