Famously denouncing their debut recording before its release, The Beta Band were at odds with themselves and everyone else from the start. Their music was built on the twin talents of Steve Mason and Gordon Anderson who, buffeted by mental instability, fitted uneasily into the music scene. Since they split, Steve Mason has recorded a series of below the radar solo albums as King Biscuit Time, Black Affair and eventually, stepping out from beneath the disguises, himself. He also shed electro-Goth-funk, which consumed him as Black Affair, for a return to guitars, drums and keyboards. Meet The Humans is the third instalment is this latest, most personal and most impressive phase.
‘Water Bored’, with its gauche yet alarming title, opens the album in an extra-upbeat style. Its lyrics are indeed cheerful, a message of hope albeit from a low starting point: “Cos you can make it / don’t think this pain is forever”. The melody is infectious and the mood ambiguous, which proves a good description for the whole album. Any record with tracks called ‘I’m Alright’, ’Alive’, ‘Another Day’ and ‘Words in My Head’ wears its emotions on its sleeve.
Although Mason reports that hypnotherapy has sorted out his long-term depression, Meet The Humans seems to exist in a mental fog, as life is taking place in the distance and not making a lot of sense. Total alienation alternates with determined, flailing attempts to connect. The music declares: this is fine, but the lyrics strongly suggest otherwise. Perhaps the music is to blame, as in the paranoia-flavoured ‘Alive’ where “the songs that they sing to you baby / they've made you crazy” is paired with a deeply sad chorus “Don’t you want to see me alive?” On ‘Through My Window’, Mason sounds desperate as he croaks “Is there anybody out there?” from behind dirty glass.
This sounds like tough listening, and certainly parts of the album are affecting, even upsetting. However, as if to remind us that few writers produce music from a neutral emotional platform, Meet The Humans is laced with the most gorgeous tunes. ‘Planet Sizes’ sounds like Love and no higher compliment is possible for a spaced out songsmith, with a touch of The Kinks’ ‘Apeman’. ‘Another Day’ counterpoints ecstatic horns with Mason’s lyrics about burial and disappearance. ‘Hardly Go Through’ employs a slow, mesmeric beat and burningly intense lyrics, a track that could have been written by Low.
Meet The Humans is a work of a top quality musician, laying Steve Mason’s talent and his struggles bare for all to see. His song writing rearranges psychedelic pop and indie influences into a disarmingly honest, morphia dream bearing a strange resemblance to life as we know it. As Mason sings, “I love you, on my day”, perhaps a more accurate representation of romance that most would care to admit.