There’s a meddling kerfuffle going on in the space time continuum. Up seems down, wrong is being dressed as right, and for some reason the chaos of now is linked to the chaos of the Elizabethan era. Thankfully, Steve Mason, (Beta Band / King Biscuit Time / Black Affair) and Martin Duffy, (Primal Scream/Felt) have landed to guide us through the commotion. Two journeying stalwarts of the indie scene deliver an augmented reality that’s as deeply pleasing as it is unexpected. This collection takes the shape of a four track ‘mini-album’ and it’s called, Livin’ In Elizabethan Times.
There are typical levels of oddness that we may expect from men who have previously ushered space travel and sonic expansion across our eardrums. (check out any random track from the careers of these artists and you’ll find them littered with references to stars, suns, satellites, unusual visions, and the universal mind) The chemistry now produces something fresher than we dared expect.
It’s hard to say which side of the chaos Mason and Duffy would guide us to, but don’t worry about that. It’s irrelevant. The sense of mischief as drunk aliens cascade through the lyrics is reward enough, and the Lynch Mob mix of closing track, “Titanic Dance” shows that if we sink, we’ll sink in party mode, and at least we were brave enough set off on the voyage which others dare not take. References are pulled in from all corners of the combined palette and somehow the madness of colors in the middle works to produce a cohesive whole.
Perhaps this is a project where fun, and the unbridled letting go of things was key. Is this the product of two artists relaxing expectation, and exploring a concept that may, or may not launch? If that hypothesis is true then the findings pay dividends. Each replay of the album (sorry, ‘mini-album’) peel back layers, to reveal bigger truths, and deeper levels of substance.
There are heavily painted abstracts, usually at the tail-end of tracks, and creatures of different comfort zones chew in the ear, but at the core of these songs is a strong heart, and it tugs to the humanity in the listener’s ear.
Progress through the tunes reflects a path through the solar system. Different planets, different atmospheres. These aren’t literal landmarks – these are indicators of experience, the unusual, the slightly skewed.
Contradictions sit across some familiar instrumental devices. Fans of Mason will revel in the opener “This One’s For The Humans”, which has a video directed by Edwin Burdis. Mason has a way of twanging an acoustic guitar to make the strings sound like they’re made out of psychedelic floss. Meanwhile, Duffy plays percussive keys which unlock all corners of a mind. It’s a vital track, sort of stompy, but set in a different gravity. Obviously.
As we draw to the close of an unusual year it’s nice to have this release from Mason and Duffy. This is one of those rare albums that can be played before, during, or after the party… and it’s going to work. Clearly, you can only play this with your proper mates, it doesn’t have any evidence of being manufactured for mass consumption, but seriously – not everyone deserves this stuff. Thinking about it though, this is just the kind of ‘random’ high-pedigree album that Kanye’s team will dig a sample from; slap it down as backing so he can sing about beating the system, or not getting what he wants. Thankfully Mason and Duffy have humor about these things. Exhibit A – check the album cover. Better car. Better pyramids. Better hats. Checkmate, Kanye.
The last sixty seconds of this album, details of which will not be revealed here, lend themselves to one of the best depictions of exploration in any art form. You can debate that if you like, but first you have to take the trip. (Take the full trip – no shortcuts, no cheap tricks)
For Livin’ In Elizabethan Times we give Alien Stadium the smallest star in the universe. Which they will know, of course, is likely to be missed by those who don’t know how to navigate the heavens, but it is also the heaviest, brightest, and most magical of celestial bodies.
HURRY – LISTEN – ALIEN STADIUM