Steve Mason is a man who spends much time thinking about the world around him and the effect it has on himself and society at large. Perhaps he is welcoming us into a corner of his mind as Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time -- his third album under his own name -- begins. Seagulls are heard circling above as a boat rocks gently in the waves, the sails feeling the strain of the incoming winds, while a reading from Canto XVII, a section of Dante's Inferno, paints a vivid picture of a world full of despair ("I looked at many thus scorched by the fiery floor, and though I scanned their faces with the utmost heed, there was no one there I recognized"). "Lie Awake" then creeps in seamlessly, a relaxing, hypnotic blend of bass and drums replacing the sound of the ocean with its musical equivalent. Dante's words have set a scene -- albeit metaphorically -- that allows Mason to start by questioning human nature and the importance of the care of people in one’s life. It’s a captivating opening to 20 sprawling, well-polished tracks recorded in London with Dan Carey and in Mason's studio in Fife, Scotland, where 11 linking pieces were self-produced. The first piece, "Flyover '98," flips the mood, harking back to Mason's more abstract Beta Band days. A busker frantically plays a wonderfully jovial tune on an accordion, until a motorbike engine drowns it out, leading us to the sweet acoustic guitar bounce of "A Lot of Love," one of his most gorgeously tender compositions. Where 2010's Boys Outside provided some of Mason's more concise, personally dark songwriting with a crisp, accessible backdrop, Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time wastes no time in offering a more universal, yet no less personal experience. Steve Mason is realizing his musical vision confidently, typified by the jump between the rather moving sampling of Brazilian commentary from a glorious Ayrton Senna lap, complete with soaring engines ("The Last of the Heroes"), to the pained yet undoubtedly uplifting, piano-led gospel of "Lonely." Meanwhile, "Seen It All Before" tackles depression, urging us to "Pick her all the flowers/Don’t get down among the hours/Start another day/You never know when she might look your way." Mason's lyrics are delivered brilliantly, their dream-like quality drifting around an album that comfortably takes in a host of genres, including dance ("Towers of Power") and hip-hop ("More Money, More Fire"). The latter features London MC Mystro, who provides a forthright attack on police and government actions surrounding the capital's 2011 riots. "Fight Them Back," one of many highlights, then pushes Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time's politically motivated final third to the hilt, a fierce battle cry ("Get up/Fight them back/A fist, a boot and a baseball bat") swarmed by a stupendous bassline and sublime string section. Closer "Come to Me" eventually brings us full circle, peeling away from the protests for one final, optimistic reminder of the power of companionship during man's darkest hours.
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