For those of you not aware of this, I have the unique fortune of having two very good friends in some influential situations. The first person I met, then had the great fortune to re-connect with, is author, musician, promoter, and more, Billy James. The second of these unique folks is Doug Ford of RundgrenRadio.com.
But this blog isn’t about Rundgren (I’ll wait for the cheers to subside).
It is about MASK, which is an acronym of the initials of the two principle members, Marvin Ayers and Sonja Kristina (Kristina best known from Curved Air, and the former Mrs. Stewart Copeland, of the Police).
From a Press Release from Glass Onyon Productions (Billy James), dated 12-15-2009:
MASK Featuring Sonja Kristina (Curved Air) and Marvin Ayers To Release Second Album Technopia
12/15/200 – London, UK – Much to the anticipation of the music press and fans worldwide, MASK are releasing their second album Technopia on r.a.r.e. (Repertoire) January, 2010 and will be performing in UK and Europe in April – May 2010. This is MASK’s first release since their UK Top 20 Club hit single “Waking The Dream”.
MASK are actress singer Sonja Kristina (Curved Air) and modern classical composer/producer/Cellist Marvin Ayres. Both established innovators in music and performance.
Marvin Ayres’s album Cellosphere (Mille Plateaux) established him as a groundbreaking composer/producer.
Sonja Kristina has been touring with the reformed Curved Air in support of the band’s most recent CD release Reborn (featuring two of Ayres’s productions) and incorporating music from the first three classic Warner Brothers Top 20 albums, Air Conditioning, Second Album, and Phantasmagoria.
In the summer of 2010 Marvin Ayres will be performing/touring his latest composition Harmonigram using 3D sound design, in association with Martyn Ware (Heaven 17/Human League), at major international festivals.
Accompanied by their band, this will be a rare opportunity for audiences to enjoy MASK’s Technopia tour on their first European dates since 2005, playing London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Stockholm and Moscow along with other towns in the UK, France, Germany and Italy.
Imagine a post apocalyptic futuristic barren terrain, in which MASK protagonists Jack and Virginia (from MASK’s first album Heavy Petal) are ghostly lovers who reunite to revisit their darkly passionate relationship from the last volatile years of their past lives. Combining a musical sensibility of Bjork/Elbow/Sigur Ros/Bat For Lashes/Massive Attack, with the macabre darkness of Tim Burton, this theatrical and dramatic performance of MASK’s music laced with stunning visual (Quadratura) and sonic effects will bring to life the land and love that is…Technopia!
For more information:
Glass Onyon PR, PH 828-350-8158, email@example.com
Post-apocalyptic ghostly lovers? Why am I starting to feel like a boudoir voyeur…
I want to give the additional musicians credit, that band that the press release referred to is Ben Weisner offering percussion and programming, Kirby Gregory on electric guitar, and Steve Byrd on various stringed instruments.
Let’s see if the album lives up to the hype:
The album opens with the title track, synth bass and drums with backing vocals kick off “Technopia”, and quickly introduces Sonja Kristina’s mature, sensual voice. Once the first verse ends, guitar and violin quickly take over, by the time the second verse (right after the first, look Ma, no bridge, no chorus!) comes back, instrumentation is popping up everywhere and Kristina’s vocal is high doubled.
A sexual steamer here, ladies and gentlemen…
The lyrics make me want to think of a highly charged e-affair. Being as the members do hail from the UK, and they tour in areas of unrest, “ a line like “Gunfire near my tiny hotel room, borders redrawn as we sleep…” seem commonplace for the singer. The song fades out in a deconstructive manner until the guitar stands alone at the end.
Wails and somber tones open “Ice Winter”. The techno-echoed beat picks up the tempo very quickly and gives host to a very Laurie Anderson-like vocal. Sensual backing vocals usher in a percussion break between verses, and as the vocal ends its “what if…” posture, a piano takes us out.
“Time To Let Go” begins with a quiet stringed intro and builds into a techno synth-bass driven moderate tempo number which frames Kristina’s pleas to abandon and reclaim that ghostly romance. But the techno beat has formed a solid foundation for vocal ad-libs, strings, synths, all combining to ebb and flow the dynamic of the song to reflect the intensity of the vocal.
A severe fades takes this song away.
Next up is a cover of the David Bowie classic “Sound And Vision”. Kristina even contributes some acoustic guitar which we hear right away. You go, girl!
Overall, a muted version with some sparse guitar effects and an electric piano-type keyboard before the famous descent that starts the song.
Ayres adds vocals all over the album, both sing on this, but for the most part, the vocals begin buried in the mix. Effects build as the song fades. Sigh.
“Space In Between” is a more up-tempo, almost Caribbean in feel, very Bryan Ferry. When it comes to the mix, Kristina’s vocals are in-your-face.
A song of lover’s separation? This whole ghostly lovers thing is sorta creepin’ me out…
Seriously, if any of you out there have a clandestine romance, this album is your mantra, your sex music.
Why do I expect to see this song on Dancing With The Stars, they’ve had lamer…
Kristina releases her haunting “Ohs” to end this. Just in time.
Electric piano and synth spots intro Kristina’s vocal for “Precious Hours”. Two verses in, the rhythm section kicks in. A very squelchy snare drum sound. With sustained guitar notes throughout, and an unassuming solo we feel the dynamic sneak up on this track, especially after the break. It lets out when Kristina’s voice returns. This alters in a break-down before the outtro. That outtro being multiple vocal ad-libs with delays.
“Faithless” starts with sparse sustain notes which yield to a piano intro. A rather sorrowful intro, mind you. But this melds to an almost Bossa-Nova beat. Slow, romantic, yet mired in total dispair.
The vocals, track after track, are treated very ethereally. Adding to that ghostly lovers mystique.
Even a woeful violin solo, ending on a very harsh note. Eeeeee.
“Is This A Wrong Turn” is a sparse Marvin Ayres tune, down to the vocal. This is strings and voice, with the odd oboe sound thrown in for good measure. Building and halting before the final vocal line and end up on a single note. Solitary. Get it?
Once some hold notes and a descending piano run passes, “Deep Creep” becomes a moderate tempo, what I would call, a ‘Haunted House-Music’ style. The beat is nearly house, and there are no vocals other than some random wailing, which exhausts the song.
“Pumping Up The Whisper” is tricky in that in and among the flanged guitar, and some background tinkling with some bass notes thrown in, there is way back in the mix, the first verse! You barely hear it. Good thing for lyrics in the liner notes. You don’t even realize the first verse has gone before the band kicks in. A repetitious song once it gets going.
The solo is actually two dueling solos, one a tremolo bar solo, the other comprised of hammered-on notes. Battling back and forth for the attention of the listener, yet not frustrating, and it takes up some time between repeating vocal lines.
I will warn you, this song is the pot-boiler on the album, and if its lyric “You’re not living in side my head” doesn’t earwig you, get your money back. The song fades on that lyric and some more tremolo bar abuse.
Jungle-style drums bring in “Before I Leave”. Piano verses break for a brief guitar break, even so, Kristina powers through the verbose lyrics quickly enough to be able to repeat each verse twice through.
At about three minutes into this thing, it turns into violin-o-plenty. Ayres works it, makes Charley Daniels look like the hick he is. Then after some vocal ad-libs, some dissonant piano takes over.
I love dissonance!
After that, it is just full out jam until the end. And it just ends.
I already don’t like the title topic, “Your God”. If this gets preachy…
Ayres takes the vocal on this one. Sparse drums and an acoustic bass sound build the foundation for Ayres’ very Eric Woolfson-like vocal (see The Alan Parson’s Project). Woolfson passed from this earth this past December. Sometimes Ayres sounds like Barry Manilow. This is not a compliment, I just call them as I hear them.
As the second verse perches, the strings ride up in the mix. Before the last chorus, a woeful violin solo. Ayres can make you cry with that thing! Right to the end of this slow-tempo thinker.
The last track, “Undulations” is an ambient piece (reference Brian Eno). No lyrics per se, but tons of vocalizations once the track gets going. Clocking in at exactly nine minutes, this is the text book definition of unhurried. The first three minutes plus could be Robert Fripp Soundscapes.
At three minutes, twenty-four seconds, Kristina kicks in the vocal offerings.
Halfway in we build dynamic. What’s next? I watch the digital VU meters on my CD recorder rise and fall. At about six minutes, thirty seconds, hold guitar notes only reinforce my Fripp-like notions.
At seven minutes, thirty seconds I see a drop in level and after a couple brief swells, takes itself away, starting at eight minutes, thirty seconds. At nine minutes we are done.
Total disc time is sixty-two minutes and forty-five seconds. To me it seems longer.
Honesty time here: Firstly, I find Ms. Kristina’s vocals rather matronly. Perhaps too matronly to make this believable in this context.
Remember, these are my OPINIONS.
Another thing that bothers me about Technopia is the lack of faster BPMs on all the tracks. This album is more techno-progressive than rave-worthy techno.
But it is a fascinating journey!