Willy Mason in Leeds
Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Wednesday 10th November 2021, £15.00
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Magic, miracles, ghosts, world leaders; these days it seems there is little left to believe in. Lies outweigh truth and even truth can be dangerous. Raising everyones spirits Already Dead the fourth album from Willy Mason - explores honesty and deception, anonymity in the digital age, good intentions with unexpected consequences, freedom, colonialism, love, god, and purpose because, its storyteller says, now is the time to restore some much-needed faith.
Already Dead is a spiritual state to aspire to; it is freedom from the trappings and inhibitions of ones ego, culture, and mythology. It is freedom and love and freedom to love in the face of death, tells Willy of the philosophy behind the writing. Its about the necessary destruction of ones mythology; mythology of species, sex, race, nation, self. Its about the pain and tragedy that comes with such destruction, but also about the freedom, possibility and opportunity for reconciliation; reconciliation with the natural world and with each other.
An inviting unravelling of decorum, Already Dead is Willys first album to be written and recorded in his home and arrives at a time when certain words must be said. It is a quest for love in a society which fears and discourages it; for truth and justice in a society which prioritises convenience and profit. Last years standalone single Take It Off hinted at what was to come after finding common ground with Noel Heroux (of Hooray For Earth and Mass Gothic) when Willy promoted Noels show at a local auto garage. After watching the set and eventually sitting in on drums himself, Willy felt moved to play Noel the demos he had been working on; demos sitting intimidatingly raw and uncouth, coughed up in a feverish month after a difficult year of death and disaster spurred him to write.
Joining forces to bring the dead to life, fuelled by their fondness of sculpting limitation for maximum effect, as producer Noel would play Willy tapes of Autechre and Satie. The pair became sonic detectorists, unearthing sound in basements, kitchens, apartments, and parks. Keeping the tape rolling they recorded Willys brother Sam Mason playing drums, Noels partner Jess Zambri singing - her voice a thread stitching together the albums tapestry of colour and texture - alongside an improvised poem by artist and muse Marciana Jones, and piano stomp by local legend Jeremy Berlin. Carrying it all to sound painter and mix master Rachel Alina, Already Dead pulls the raw intimacy of Willys debut LP Where the Humans Eat (2004) toward the wild present, playing R&B and early rocknroll as rhythm guitarist in his local dive bar house band to keep people happy and dancing. I ended up diving so deeply into this record because it felt at the time, like the only way I could hope to do some good for somebody, Willy says. All the concern and care I have for people, fear, frustration and sadness, all came pouring out.
Sparkling opener Youth On A Spit is one of Willys heaviest tracks to date; I feel no pain Ive already bled / You cant kill me Im already dead, he taunts, through double-sided declaration of invincibility before embarking upon a biting, bold, and caring tour through the purgatory of life in 21st century North America; reaching for Heaven The Truth is Love/The Truth is Life/The Truth is Sowing Paradise'', whilst preparing for Hell, Things wed do to each other/Im worried to discover (Gilded Lie). All the while pleading and appealing to ones nation as if to a wayward lover; oh my country/you were born/as a branch from a tree of thorns/of poison apple poison tree/youve fallen far but roots run deep (Oh My Country). Even those considering themselves above suspicion cannot hide: Wilfully ignorant/a false equivalence/smitten with shame/a pawn in the game (One Of The Good Ones).
Voyaging across the cracks of a bleak and crumbling landscape, beauty begins to blossom as Already Dead casts new shades of meaning when applied to a society and culture teetering on the edge between reinvention and dissolution. Hope, without promise, develops into its own suspended resolution with ripping album closer Worth It and looks towards reaching a definitive destination after the soldiering on of early LPs Carry On (2012) and If the Ocean Gets Rough (2007); The seed and the sowing/the need and the growing/the hope and the hatred/the faith and the sacred/the thief and the servant/the fazed and the fervent/I Know Its Worth It.
After seeing the world on countless tours and supporting independent music communities, Willys next move looks to be even greater. Already Dead captures the feeling of these times and Im trying to give people encouragement, whatever that may be or look like, he says. Here lies unquestionable truth; life might be uncertain, but to be Already Dead is just the beginning.
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