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Last month I was lucky enough to attend the launch of Manchester duo Taylor and the Mason’s eponymous album. Surrounded by friends and Pledge Music supporters, it was a gorgeous, intimate evening brightened by the dual talents of Becky Taylor and Sally Mason. Before leaving I nabbed a copy of the album and filed it in my towering ‘to be reviewed’ pile. Thankfully, I’ve had all this weekend to listen to the CD on repeat, and can now share the official Vada verdict!
With Taylor’s classical training and Mason’s love for popular culture, the two strike a grand balance: cheeky arrangements, smart and often playful lyrics, and harmonies to die for. At first listen, you’d be forgiven for noting only the acoustic folk and soft rock trappings, but there are telltale signs of voracious musical consumption – a love of the art that meets the pure joy of entertaining. What results is shimmering, buoyant and heartfelt music. It feels like Taylor and the Mason have unearthed classics from the back of your record collection and aired them again for the first time in years, because these are familiar and yet original songs which you’ll immediately add to your favourites list.
Listening for the fifth time in a row to this beautiful album, I’m reminded of a youth spent listening to a particular type of artist from that time period: Annie Lennox, Joan Osborne, Jewel, Beth Orton, The Cranberries and Kate Bush. Taylor and the Mason sound like none of these acts in particular, but their sound is both as assured and as individualistic, sitting easily alongside them in my collection. Taylor and the Mason manage to capture something timeless while still sounding fresh.
Album opener ‘Don’t Wake Me Up’ invites the listener to ‘just sit / stay a while with me,’ before taking us on a journey of bittersweet longing. ‘Don’t wake me up / I am resting now,’ they continue, dreaming of a lover who remains permanently on the horizon (‘One day we’ll meet by the crescent moon’) but who might vanish by the light of day and under the scrutiny of waking sunlight. Both softly sweet and poignant, the duo’s voices merge to announce how, as one, they ‘feel your hands touching my heart / feeling it beating, beating, beating, beating till it stops.’ At times breathless, and deceptively upbeat, ‘Don’t Wake Me Up’ sets the tone for this stunning album.
Full of jewels and glittery things, ‘Midas Touch’ is one of my favourites on the album. ‘Lights glisten in their eyes / As they bleed me dry / Gold and silver pass me by / But they leave me cold,’ T&M announce, the tone set for a tale of false gold, ‘palms crossed with silver’ and ‘jewels of fortune’. Another song of heartbreak, but gleaming with a gorgeous chorus and a poetry that makes it shine.
‘Belly of Winter’ opens languorously but ensnares the listener with guitar strums that pull you into the ‘woohoos’ and tinkling piano riffs easily. ‘Let a little sunshine,’ our girls sing, slyly sending up the tone suggested by the title and reminding us that while the subject matter here is often one of loss, they’re having fun with it anyway.
More upbeat at this point, ‘Devil in You’ is a welcome lift into a more mischievous realm. ‘I tried to walk away / But I can’t let go,’ they sing, delighting in the devilish. The arrangements here are layered simply but effectively, adding an ever-so-subtle haunting menace beneath the acoustic sass.
‘Gin in Berlin’ is a slow-then-fast dive, continuing the descent into wicked relish begun by ‘Devil in You’. The verses start off laidback, disarming, before breaking into a fiddle-riddled, high-energy chorus. The lyrics here are often violent and enjoyably so: ‘I’ll put you in the bin / I’ll kick you in the shin / I’ll rip you limb from limb / And then put on your skin.’ The song seems at once perhaps a critique of rampant consumerism (‘Give me what I want / Show me what I ask for’) but also the consumptive desire of an unhealthy love (‘Throw away your heart’) that devours and destroys (‘And I’ll bring you disaster’) for the most shallow of thrills (‘…for a glass of gin’).
‘Firefly’ is dark and delicious, as the terrible twosome lead us on through the album’s sombre belly (‘Firefly took the light / Taking me to darker times’) and out through the other side (‘Thoughts of you / Pull me through’) with a rising, theatrical quality. More strings, more drums, but a shoulder-shrugging tempo that brings us back to the light.
Hot on the heels, ‘Sidepool’ swirls with hope both in musical tone and vocal delivery. Here, the album becomes all rising violins, rising voices, rising moods, acting as sweet and perfectly timed relief at this point. Though the song still carries those twinges of sadness, you can’t help but feel uplifted.
Getting back in the swing, ‘Alice’ is a rocking number (‘Pleased to meet you / Now let’s get something started’) with killer guitar solos and that same head-bobbing energy that pops up in earlier tracks. More celebratory than the preceding tracks, and unashamedly crowd-pleasing, this is bound to be a set-favourite on the live circuit.
‘My Darling’ works as a sombre album closer. Rushing lyrics come at you like a sudden tide, sliding slowly away from you and then susurrating back quickly to a capture the commensurate rush of emotion: ‘stars up above, shine like the sun…’ It’s as if there are too many feelings to fit into the words, enjambment spilling one thought into the next, the line-lengths stretched at times to bursting like an aching heart: ‘You are all I see / my memories collide / and my soul aches too / as my heart breaks…’
Taylor and the Mason manage, in this first but highly accomplished album, to pack in a lot. There’s adventure, darkness and play, with fabulous music and effortless lyricism to boot. It’s better that they don’t pad the album out* – the nine tracks here are perfection, and leave us wanting more. Sign me up to the fan club – I’m sold!
*Although, I thoroughly enjoyed this song, which isn’t on the album but was performed as an encore at the launch: